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Tpollo wustl beginning spellers exploit inexact letter name matches

Beginning Spellers Exploit Inexact Letter-Name Matches

Tatiana Cury Pollo, Rebecca Treiman, & Brett Kessler

  • Abstract

  • We studied how spelling is affected by letter-name knowledge when the match between a letter name and a phoneme sequence is imperfect. We examined Portuguese-speaking preschoolers’ use of H (which is named /aˈɡa/ but never represents /g/ or /a/) when spelling words beginning with /ga/ or variants of /ga/. Children used H for 15% of words beginning with /ga/ and 11% of those with /ka/, but rarely for words with syllables with initial /g/ and /k/ having other vowels. Thus, when using letter names to spell consonants, children attended to adjacent vowels much more than to exact match of consonants.

  • Introduction

    • Knowledge of letter names plays a important role in young children’s explorations of the nature of print across languages (e.g., Cardoso-Martins, Resende, & Assunção, 2002; Levin, Patel, Margalit, & Barad, 2002; Treiman & Kessler, 2003).

    • One reason for this connection between knowledge of letter names and spelling is that letter names are common in the pronunciation of words (Treiman, 1994).

  • Examples of children’s use of consonant letter names in their spellings:

  • What is the extent of letter-name influences in young children’s spelling?

    • Few words in English and Portuguese contain the entire name of a consonant letter (Pollo, Kessler, & Treiman, in press).

    • Little is known about how beginning spellers select letters on the basis of partial or inexact matches between letter names and words being written.

    • If children are influenced even by inexact matches, consonant letter name effects may be broader than if only exact matches are counted.

  • Are children influenced by letter-name inexact matches?

    • To investigate whether children are influenced by inexact matches, we examined misspellings produced by Portuguese-speaking children for which knowledge of letter names is the only reasonable cause.

    • In Portuguese, the name of H is /aˈɡa/; however H never spells /ɡ/. Any systematic use of the letter H to spell /ɡ/ or variants of /ɡ/ is likely due to letter-name strategy.

  • Research Questions

  • Do children use the letter H (named /aˈɡa/) to spell:

    • /ɡa/, the stressed syllable of the letter name?

    • /ka/, which differs from /ɡa/ only in voicing?

    • /g/ or /k/ followed by vowels other than /a/?

  • Methods

  • Participants

  • Data were analyzed from 65 Portuguese-speaking preschoolers.

  • - 32 children were assigned to the /g/ condition

  • - 33 children were assigned to the /k/ condition

  • Children were all monolingual native speakers of Portuguese.

  • Their ages ranged from approximately 5 to 6 years.

  • Procedure

  • The words were dictated in random order by a native speaker of Brazilian Portuguese.

  • Children from two different classrooms were assigned to the /g/ condition and those from two other classrooms were assigned to the /k/ condition.

  • Spelling test

    • 24 two-syllable words: 12 experimental and 12 control

      • Experimental words varied in initial consonant phoneme (/g/ and /k/) and vowel phoneme (/a/ or other).

      • Control words began with phonemes other than /g/ and /k/, or contained silent H in their standard spelling.

  • Results

  • Proportions of H in the initial position in children’s spellings of various types of words (standard deviations in parentheses)

  • Summary of Results

    • Children sometimes used an initial H in words that began with /ga/ and /ka/, even though H never spells those phonemes.

      They only rarely used initial H in the other conditions, even in the words standardly spelled with an H.

    • Difference between /ga/ and /ka/ is not significant, p < .05.

    • Words that started with /ga/ and /ka/ had significantly more initial H spellings than the other words, p < .01.

  • Conclusions

    • The results corroborate findings that children’s spellings are influenced by letter names. While for other letters it may be difficult to disentangle use of sounds from use of letter names, this possibility is strictly excluded here because H /aˈga/ never spells the target phonemes /ɡ/ or /k/.

    • The results show that effects of consonant letter names on children’s spellings may be broader than expected: Children use letter-name knowledge even when the match between a letter name and a phoneme sequence is inexact.

    • This study provides new information about how young children match letter names to sound sequences. Children preferred to use letters when CV sequences from the letters' names matched the target, for which purpose exact matches of the vowel were of paramount importance, but voicing in the consonant was of minor importance. The results corroborate previous findings that young children make confusion on the basis of voicing (Treiman, Broderick, Tincoff, & Rodriguez, 1998).