Variations in the use of simple and context-sensitive grapheme-phoneme correspondences in English and German developing readers

Xenia Schmalz*, Serje Robidoux, Anne Castles, Eva Marinus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Learning to read in most alphabetic orthographies requires not only the acquisition of simple grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) but also the acquisition of context-sensitive GPCs, where surrounding letters change a grapheme’s pronunciation. We aimed to explore the use and development of simple GPCs (e.g. a ➔ /æ/) and context-sensitive GPCs (e.g. [w]a ➔ /ɔ/, as in “swan” or a[l][d] ➔ /o:/, as in “bald”) in pseudoword reading. Across three experiments, English- and German-speaking children in grades 2–4 read aloud pseudowords, where vowel graphemes had different pronunciations according to different contexts (e.g. “hact”, “wact”, “hald”). First, we found that children use context-sensitive GPCs from grade 2 onwards, even when they are not explicitly taught. Second, we used a mathematical optimisation procedure to assess whether children’s vowel responses can be described by assuming that they rely on a mix of simple and context-sensitive GPCs. While the approach works well for German adults (Schmalz et al. in Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 26, 831–852, 2014), we found poor model fits for both German- and English-speaking children. Additional analyses using an entropy measure and data from a third experiment showed that children’s pseudoword reading responses are variable and likely affected by random noise. We found a decrease in entropy across grade and reading ability across all conditions in both languages. This suggests that GPC knowledge becomes increasingly refined across grades 2–4.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalAnnals of Dyslexia
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • context-sensitive rules
  • cross-linguistic
  • entropy
  • grapheme-phoneme correspondences
  • reading development

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