Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Elaine C. Klein

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Linguistics


emergent bilingual, morphological awareness, reading comprehension


The present research examines the role of morphological awareness in reading comprehension of high school emergent bilinguals. As an increasing number of research studies contribute to our understanding of morphological awareness, i.e. the ability to reflect on and manipulate morphologically complex derived words, we are better able to appreciate some essential components of reading that may have been overlooked in past decades. Previous research suggests that morphological awareness contributes to academic reading vocabulary and higher-level text comprehension, both crucial to the success of secondary school students in the United States (U.S.).

The population in the present study is newcomer Spanish-speaking high school students who have a range of reading ability in the first language (L1), and have emerging second language (L2) English and literacy skills. There are two overarching research questions in this study: the first considers the role of linguistic variables, namely Spanish-English cognates, the frequency of morphologically complex derived words, the degree of phonological transparency in morphologically related words, and the linguistic context: semantic or syntactic. The second examines the effect of morphological awareness on reading comprehension in the L1 Spanish, in the L2 English, and across these languages. The effect of morphological awareness on reading comprehension is considered through reading vocabulary as a mediating variable, and analyzed with a series of multiple regression path analyses. Both questions consider differences between L1 Spanish low-proficiency (2nd - 4th grade) and high-proficiency (7th -11th grade) readers.

Several important contributions come from this study. The first is that linguistic variables do have a significant effect on morphological awareness, with strongest effects from cognates and frequency in English. Second, morphological awareness makes a strong contribution to reading comprehension in both the L1 Spanish and L2 English; and the shared contribution of morphological awareness and reading vocabulary of these two predictors together is strongest. Furthermore, L1 morphological awareness contributes to L2 reading comprehension for those who are reading above the third grade proficiency in English. Implications from this research suggest that higher morphological awareness skills in L1 Spanish helps to foster L2 English vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.