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Department of Cognitive Science

Seminar Abstract

Spelling and spelling development: Beyond phonology.

Speaker : Professor Rebecca Treiman, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St Louis, USA.
Date : 18th of October 2017, 11:00AM until 12:00PM
Location : Australian Hearing Hub, 3.610, Macquarie University.

    Many researchers and educators adopt a phonological perspective on writing systems. According to this perspective, the spellings of words in alphabetic writing systems reflect phonology and are deficient to the extent that they do not do so. The main skills that are important for learning to spell, in this view, are ability to divide spoken words into phonemes and knowledge of phoneme-grapheme correspondences. Young spellers rely heavily on these types of knowledge, and sensitivity to graphotactic patterns develops relatively late. In this talk, I present an alternative perspective. This perspective sees spelling as having its own rules and patterns rather than being purely a reflection of phonology. Thus, some spellings that seem deviant from a phonological perspective are actually more principled. Children start to learn about the graphotactic patterns of their writing system even before they begin to spell phonologically, and knowledge of these patterns plays an important role in spelling for both children and adults. I present several types of evidence to support this alternative perspective. One set of data comes from studies of how adult users of English decide between single-letter and double-letter spellings of medial consonants. We find that doubling choices are influenced not only by the phonological characteristics of the item but also by nonphonological factors, including the number of letters that the speller uses to represent the vowel before the critical consonant and the letters that the speller uses for the following segments. I also present data from longitudinal studies of children. Here we examine the characteristics of kindergarten spelling that are related to literacy outcomes later in primary school and other early abilities, including phonological awareness and letter-sound knowledge, that are associated with later success. Overall, the findings support the view that we must look beyond phonology to get a full understanding of spelling and its development.

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