The roles of prosody in Chinese-English reading comprehension

Shelley Xiuli TONG, Rachel Ka Ying TSUI, Nicole Sin Hang LAW, Leo Shing Chun FUNG, Ming Ming CHIU, Kate CAIN

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review


Background: Despite being an essential component of children's oral reading fluency, prosodic reading, which involves expressive changes in pitch patterns and pause durations, has not been explored in Cantonese-English bilingual children, whose first language (L1) is tonal, non-alphabetic, and whose second language (L2) is non-tonal, alphabetic. 

Aims: This study examined the development of prosodic reading and its within- and cross-language associations with reading comprehension among Cantonese-English bilingual children from second to third grade. 

Sample: One hundred and twenty-one 7-to 8-year-old Cantonese-English bilingual children completed initial testing in grade 2, with 52 tested in grade 3. 

Methods: Prosodic reading was assessed using one Chinese and one English passage, each comprising six types of syntactic structures: declaratives, clause-final commas, yes-no questions, wh-questions, complex adjectival phrases, and quotatives. Word-reading efficiency, oral passage-reading fluency, and reading comprehension in Chinese and English were also measured. 

Results: Spectrographic analyses revealed that these children were aware of language-independent functions and language-specific manifestations of pitch and pause cues within and across their L1 Chinese and L2 English. Wh question pitch contours emerged as the most robust link to reading comprehension across both languages, while a crossover effect occurred from Cantonese pitch to English reading comprehension. Shorter pauses for English declarative quotative sentences and phrase-final commas were concurrently associated with greater English reading comprehension. 

Conclusions: These findings are interpreted within a new reading framework, the Prosodic Catalysing Hypothesis (PCH), which proposes that pitch and pause production can bridge prosody and syntax to facilitate reading comprehension. Copyright © 2023 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101846
JournalLearning and Instruction
Early online dateNov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


Tong, S. X., Tsui, R. K. Y., Law, N. S. H., Fung, L. S. C., Chiu, M. M., & Cain, K. (2024). The roles of prosody in Chinese-English reading comprehension. Learning and Instruction, 89, Article 101846.


  • Prosodic reading
  • Oral reading fluency
  • Bilingual reading comprehension
  • Wh questions
  • Spectrographic analysis
  • Prosodic catalysing hypothesis (PCH)


Dive into the research topics of 'The roles of prosody in Chinese-English reading comprehension'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.