Tracking the evolution of orthographic expectancies over building visual experience

Signy Wegener*, Hua-Chen Wang, Kate Nation, Anne Castles

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Literate children can generate expectations about the spellings of newly learned words that they have not yet seen in print. These initial spelling expectations, or orthographic skeletons, have previously been observed at the first orthographic exposure to known spoken words. Here, we asked what happens to the orthographic skeleton over repeated visual exposures. Children in Grade 4 (N = 38) were taught the pronunciations and meanings of one set of 16 novel words, whereas another set were untrained. Spellings of half the items were predictable from their phonology (e.g., nesh), whereas the other half were less predictable (e.g., koyb). Trained and untrained items were subsequently shown in print, embedded in sentences, and eye movements were monitored as children silently read all items over three exposures. A larger effect of spelling predictability for orally trained items compared with untrained items was observed at the first and second orthographic exposures, consistent with the notion that oral vocabulary knowledge had facilitated the formation of spelling expectations. By the third orthographic exposure, this interaction was no longer significant, suggesting that visual experience had begun to update children's spelling expectations. Delayed follow-up testing revealed that when visual exposure was equated, oral training provided a strong persisting benefit to children's written word recognition. Findings suggest that visual exposure can alter children's developing orthographic representations and that this process can be captured dynamically as children read novel words over repeated visual exposures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104912
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • reading development
  • vocabulary
  • eye movements
  • orthographic learning
  • word recognition
  • phonology


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