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         Stanley Haomin Zhang

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I am currently working on several projects emphasizing the cognitive development of L1, L2 and HL (heritage language) learners. My methodological orientation is advanced quantitative analysis (structural equation modeling, path analysis, mediation analysis, etc.) and my thematic focus is vocabulary and reading development in an additional language.

I. Chinese as a heritage language (CHL) vocabulary/reading acquisition (cognitive development)

Vocabulary learning is cognitively demanding, incorporating the ability to map meanings onto graphic forms, the ability to embed words into sentential and discourse structures, and the ability to apply words to the real world. In Nagy & Anderson (1984), it is reported that children may encounter up to 3,000 unfamiliar words each year when they read; a later study by Nagy and colleagues states more specifically that American fifth-grade children may encounter up to 10,000 unfamiliar words during reading activities over a one-year period, a large proportion of which will be morphologically complex (Nagy, Osborn, Winsor, & O¡¯Flahavan, 1994). Given the fact that vocabulary acquisition is a complicated cognitive process, in this study I would like to address how vocabulary knowledge is constructed in the group of Chinese heritage language learners, how vocabulary knowledge contributes to literacy acquisition and how different constructs are interwoven together to influence literacy acquisition among Chinese heritage language learners. As an orthographically-opaque language, oral language proficiency (mapping between sound and meaning) in Chinese does not necessarily help learners¡¯ literacy skills. It remains unclear whether those previously-acquired vocabulary knowledge (including oral vocabulary and print vocabulary) could lead to the development of morphological awareness, which ultimately improves word learning ability among Chinese heritage language learners.

II. Metalinguistic awareness in reading acquisition

Morphological awareness (MA) is the knowledge a speaker has about the mapping of sound to meaning in a given language and his/her understanding of the word formation rules that guide the combination of morphemes (Kuo & Anderson, 2006). Berko (1958) argues that MA, which is triggered by exposure to oral and written language, begins to develop in English-speaking children as young as four. Preschoolers are able to produce inflected words (e.g. plurals) at an early stage. In addition, Carlisle & Fleming (2003) offer some evidence for the development of MA among young elementary-age children. Their findings indicate that first-grade students are able to segment words into meaningful components, such as still-ness, but that children¡¯s ability to extract the meaning of a morphologically-complex word does not develop until the third grade. By third grade, children started to show their awareness of suffixes that change grammatical roles. Numerous studies have explored the role of MA in early literacy or biliteracy acquisition across both alphabetic languages (e.g., Kieffer & Lesaux, 2008; Siegel, 2008) and morphosyllabic languages (e.g., Ku & Anderson, 2003; Wang, Cheng, & Chen, 2006; Pasquarella, Chen, Lam, Luo, & Ramirez, 2011). Ku and Anderson (2003) state that children who are knowledgeable about morphology decompose unknown words to meaningful segments--roots, prefixes and suffixes-- and then derive the meanings from the integration of those meaningful units. MA has been found to facilitate the development of vocabulary knowledge (e.g., Nagy & Anderson, 1984; Kieffer & Lesaux, 2012), by enhancing children¡¯s understanding of unknown words, and has also been conjectured to contribute to text comprehension (Carlisle, 2000; Nagy, Berninger, & Abbott, 2006) and reading ability (e.g., Carlisle, 1995; Nunes & Bryant, 2006; Kieffer & Lesaux, 2008). In this study, it is hypothesized that Chinese-specific MA enhances the development of vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension among Chinese-speaking second graders.  Multivariate path analysis was used to test the mediated and unmediated effects of MA on multiple literacy outcomes (vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension) in a causal order.

Previous work

CHL development and maintenance

I collected the data from Chinese heritage language learners in Great Philadelphia area (including Wayne, Radnor, Swarthmore, University City, and North Philly); investigated specific linguistic (e.g morphosyntactic, semantic) attrition, transfer or loss among heritage language learners; parents¡¯ measures to maintain heritage languages; teachers¡¯ classroom practice and pedagogy in HL classroom; and relevant language policy for this particular group of bilingual speakers.

The topics that I addressed:

1. Morphosyntactic acquisition and attrition among Chinese heritage language speakers (comparative syntax, negative morphemes, word order)

2. Parental measures to maintain heritage language (language ideology, language and identity, language maintenance)

3. Classroom practice in bilingual language classroom (computer-assisted language learning, classroom discourse analysis)

Relevant papers:

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Zhang, H. (2012). Whose Job Is It? Chinese Heritage Language Acquisition and Maintenance, Chinese L2 Theory and Practice, Chinese Language Education & Research Center (CLERC), California, U.S.A [pdf]

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Zhang, H. (2011). Negation in Incomplete Language Acquisition of Mandarin Chinese, under revision [pdf]

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