Testing the script-relativity hypothesis: expertise in reading Chinese versus English is associated with better arithmetic skills

Kelvin Fai Hong LUI, Zebedee Rui En CHEAH, Catherine MCBRIDE, Urs MAURER

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The script relativity hypothesis proposes that the scripts we read and write affect our cognition. The current study tested this hypothesis by comparing Chinese and English cognitive-linguistic skills and three cognitive abilities, including verbal working memory capacity, nonverbal IQ, and arithmetic calculation, across groups of children with different Chinese and English word reading performances. Using the untimed word reading performances as the criterion, four groups of children were identified from a sample of 662 Hong Kong grade 1 Chinse children, including 49 children who were “good” at both Chinese and English word reading (the GB group), 30 children who were “poor” in Chinese word reading only (the PC group), 40 children who were “poor” in English word reading only (the PE group), and 65 children who were “poor” in both (the PB group). Significant group differences were found on almost all the cognitive-linguistic skills, including phonological awareness, morphological awareness, vocabulary knowledge, and rapid digit naming, and the three cognitive abilities, with the GB group performing the best and the PB group performing the most poorly, suggesting a general positive association between script and cognition. Pairwise comparisons showed that the PC group performed better than the PE group in the English cognitive-linguistic tasks and the PE group performed better than the PC group in the Chinese cognitive-linguistic tasks, as expected. More importantly, the PC group showed poorer arithmetic calculation performance when compared to the PE group, suggesting a stronger association between Chinese word reading and arithmetic calculation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1359-1379
Number of pages21
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number6
Early online date18 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Collaborative Research Fund from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Research Grants Council (CUHK8/CRF/13G, and C4054-17WF) awarded to C. McBride.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.


  • Script relativity
  • Literacy skills
  • Cognitive-linguistic skills
  • Math
  • Cognitive abilities


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