Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Teaching and Learning

First Advisor

Everson, Michael E.

First Committee Member

Schrier, Leslie L.

Second Committee Member

Shen, Helen H.

Third Committee Member

Vispoel, Walter P.

Fourth Committee Member

Plakans, Lia


The present study is based on the theoretical assumptions that frequency of characters and their structural components, as well as the frequency types of structural components, are important to enable learners of Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) to discover the underlying structure of Chinese characters. In the CFL context, since reliable target language input is limited largely to textbook materials and teacher instruction, it is important to more rigorously examine the inventory of Chinese characters that is typically presented in CFL textbooks.

The purpose of this study was to systematically describe and classify Chinese characters from ten CFL textbooks designed for college and adult beginning learners. The main focus was to compare the textbooks in the following areas: explicit orthographic decomposition instruction, character frequency selection, radical combination frequency, radical semantic transparency, radical positional regularity among different character graphic structures, phonetic element reliability, and phonetic component combination frequency. To accomplish the analysis required for this study, a special character database was created. Dictionaries were used to classify character characteristics, and documented frequency lists were used to classify the character usage frequency.

The findings revealed that most textbooks rarely include explicit orthographic decomposition instruction in the vocabulary lists or lessons, while over 40% of the characters in most of the textbooks did not combine with other characters to form words. In addition, analysis of frequency lists created over time revealed that the ten textbooks generally contain many high frequency characters. Furthermore, the results indicated that 60% of the characters in the database were classified by relatively few radicals (17%), with most radicals appearing on the left side of the characters. Relatively reliable phonetic analogy groups appeared frequently. About half of the characters are semantic-phonetic compound characters. Less than 10% of the characters in the textbooks are semantic-phonetic compound characters that contain semantically transparent radicals and reliable phonetic elements.

The results of the study suggest that textbook writers should consider integrating orthographic decomposition and component frequency materials into their textbooks, as systematic instruction in textbooks is generally lacking. Teachers should also be mindful of emphasizing the high frequency characters that are consistently featured in all textbooks, as well as the frequently appearing radicals and left-right internal structure of many of the characters. In this way, students will early on develop a firm foundation of the principles governing Chinese orthography.


Chinese as a Foreign Language, Chinese as a Foreign Language Textbooks, Chinese Orthographic Awareness


xiv, 203 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 196-203).


Copyright 2010 Hui-Mei Fan