Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Chinese Dyslexia

Dyslexia is often associated with an inability to either percieve or create the correct orientation in a letter or character. The classic visual image of dyslexic writing showed frequent reversals between the letters 'b' and 'd'. In this view it would be difficult to impossible to be dyslexic in the Chinese writing system. However, this view is outdated, perhaps by 20-30 years according to this article.

I met C K Leong at a conference in Vancouver several years ago and was able to view his pages of overheads showing the writing of dyslexic Chinese children. Many portrayed misformed and reversed characters. Unfortunately I didn't ask him for copies. (Next time!)

In fact, it is not neccesary for the actual symbols to represent reflected sets like 'b' and 'd' for children to have this confusion. The component parts of a Chinese character offer as much opportunity for difficulty to Chinese children as the various letter shapes, and irregular spellings offer English children. There is also a difference in phonological processing at a certain level. However, that is one component of the problem, not all.

I recommend to you this article by C K Leong, P W Cheng and C C Lam.

Exploring reading-spelling connection as locus of dyslexia in Chinese.

"This persistent difficulty with spelling, particularly writing to dictation, seems to apply even more so to Chinese children with dyslexia, as compared with children using alphabetic language systems (Leong 1999b). It is only during the last seven years or so that real progress has been made in greater public awareness and understanding of developmental dyslexia in Hong Kong. ... it was estimated that there could be as many Chinese children with specific learning disabilities as estimated in western countries."

So I submit that an absence of transformations in the writing system does not significantly reduce the incidence of reading difficulties. This is, of course, apropos the assumed difficulty of reading Mandombé. I am of the personal opinion that writing systems may vary in terms of the demands put on the readers, but that these effects are more diverse and scattered than one might think and are not easily analysed.

PS If your child has letter reversals you should know that this is a common developmental stage in writing and is usually outgrown. It is only incidentally associated with dyslexia.

Addendum: Shadow has a full bibliography and an image of Chinese dyslexia from one of C K Leong's articles.


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