Learning to Read the Complex Manchu Writing System: A Mixed Methods Study of Novice Learners in a Chinese University

31st May 2022 : 13:00 - 14:00

Category: Seminar

Research Group: Applied Linguistics

Speaker: Mark Bai Li (University of Oxford)

Location: Online only (Teams)

Convener: Faidra Faitaki

Audience: Public

Join the event on the day, via Teams link

This study investigated the association between the Manchu writing system and novice learners’ uju symbol block decoding performance. The Manchu writing system was examined on two parameters: visual complexity of uju and mapping complexity between symbol and sound. Although previous studies have shown that visual and mapping complexities were associated with word decoding, most studies were conducted on alphabetic writing systems. Thus, it remains unknown whether similar results would be found in Manchu writing system. Designed as a mixed methods study, this study randomly selected undergraduate students (n = 196) in a Chinese university, who were given Manchu uju naming tasks in Test 1 on visual complexity and Test 2 on symbol-sound mapping complexity. Moreover, the instruction on Manchu orthographic knowledge was also observed. Results of Test 1 revealed that visual complexity of uju is significantly and positively associated with participants’ decoding performance measured by error rate and reaction time. Furthermore, connected points were identified by multiple linear regression as the unique predictor for decoding accuracy, and connected points and disconnected components were identified as predictors for decoding speed. The results of Test 1 suggested that readers may use connected points to identify features in visual processing of an uju. Results of Test 2 showed that the participants’ decoding performance was not significantly different when the symbols were provided in the manipulated “mixed” and “blocked” condition, but their performance was more accurate and rapid in naming the symbol blocks with phoneme markers in the consistent one–to–one mapping than those in one-to-multiple mapping with sound. The results suggested that Manchu phoneme markers rather than uju were used for symbol block processing, which was further corroborated by the observation on Manchu orthographic knowledge instruction. Finally, this study posits that reading Manchu uju symbol blocks requires intra-symbol processing, which involves (a) at the feature level, identification and configuration of visual features into phoneme markers, and (b) at the symbol level, conversion of phoneme markers into sounds.

About the Speaker

Mark Bai Li is a final year DPhil student in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition course at the Department of Education, University of Oxford. His doctoral project investigates the cognitive process of reading the “critically endangered” Manchu language in China. Mark holds a BA in English from Dalian University of Foreign Languages, and an MSEd in TESOL from the Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania. He also spent one and half years doing MPhil level research on Manchu education at King’s College London. Prior to Oxford, Mark taught as a Lecturer in English in China for seven years and as a volunteer ESOL teacher in the School District of Philadelphia for one year.