Cognitive and linguistic contributors to spelling within and across languages

Cognitive and linguistic contributors to spelling within and across languages

First Author: Susie Russak -- Beit Berl College, Israel
Abstract / Summary: 

Despite the fact that one cannot be considered truly literate without knowing how to spell, this skill has been much less investigated than the more prominent skill of reading. Furthermore, the majority of extant research on spelling and spelling development to date has focused on the English language. While English may be the most widely spoken language in the world today, it is not the majority native language of all of the speakers. Thus there is still much work to be done to understand this essential literacy skill among speakers of different languages (Treiman, 2017). The present symposium explores spelling and spelling development in different linguistic contexts, different developmental stages and among learners of different levels of language proficiency. The presentations explore cognitive and linguistic contributions from L1 and additional languages to spelling, spelling strategies, spelling errors. Multiple L1 backgrounds, typological and orthographic differences are explored.

Symposium Papers: 

Spelling development in Hong Kong early Chinese-English literacy learners

First Author/Chair:Yanyan YE -- The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Additional authors/chairs: 
Cammie McBride

Purpose: A growing body of research has suggested that cross-language transfer happens in bilingual reading development. However, little is known about whether and how L1 affects L2 spelling development. Longitudinal studies are needed to examine the relations of L1 and L2 in a developmental way from the beginning of literacy learning. We address this issue by investigating whether and which metalinguistic skill(s) in Chinese (L1) predict English (L2) spelling development one year and two years following kindergarten. Importantly, the associations of previous L1 spelling to later L2 spelling were examined.
Method: 106 Hong Kong Chinese-English bilingual kindergarteners (Mean age = 5.64 years) completed an IQ test, three tasks of Chinese metalinguistic skills (phonological awareness, morphological awareness, and orthographic awareness), a Chinese delayed copying task, and a measure of Chinese word dictation (spelling) at kindergarten (K3). Both Chinese and English word dictation were tested and re-tested when they were at Grade 1 and Grade 2.
Results: Regression analyses showed that preschool Chinese phonological awareness predicted English spelling in Grade 1 and Grade 2. The best fitting model suggested that preschool Chinese spelling performance predicts Grade 1 and Grade 2 English spelling. However, Grade 1 Chinese spelling performance was negatively associated with English spelling in Grade 2.
Conclusion: This study highlights the complexity in cross-language transfer, especially in the early stages of literacy learning. In addition, it provides valuable evidence in early bi-literacy learning highlighting the fact that cross-language transfer between Chinese (L1) and English (L2) is dynamically changing.

Allocation of cognitive and linguistic resources for L2 (English) spelling development among L1 Spanish ELLs at different levels of English language proficiency

First Author/Chair:Elena Zaretsky -- Clark University

Purpose: English Language Learners (ELLs) from L1 Spanish background are not a homogeneous group. Some acquire heritage L1, and continue to lack appropriate L2 exposure prior to school entry, resulting in decreased L1 and L2 language skills (Hoff, et al., 2014; Rojas & Iglesias, 2013).
Spelling is a visual representation of phonological information (Read, 1971), requires well-developed phoneme/grapheme mapping ability (Caravolas, et al., 2001; Ehri, 2005; Raynolds & Uhry, 2010), and utilizes specific cognitive and linguistic resources to support this complicated developmental process.
We examined allocation of cognitive and linguistic resources for spelling by ELLs at different levels of ELP in view that Spanish and English differ in orthographic depth, phonetic inventory and morphosyntactic complexity.
Method: 60 L1 Spanish ELLs attending 5th and 6th grades (24 f/36 m, Mage=11;78, SD=1.16) were assessed on a battery of cognitive and L1 and L2 linguistic skills, as well as administered the list of monosyllabic nonwords (Khan-Horowitz et al., 2011) for spelling.
Results: Our results indicated that L2 spelling changes as a factor of ELP. Only highest level of ELP showed specific relationship between PM, L2 vocabulary and spelling quality (p=.001 and p=.01, respectively). At each level of ELP ELLs drew on different cognitive and linguistic skills to support spelling.
Conclusions: Spelling quality shows developmental growth based on the levels of ELP, suggesting similar process among ELLs and young monolingual children. At the highest level of ELP, with growing L2 vocabulary skills, ELLs utilize L2 phonological representations to correctly spell L2 patterns.

Developmental, cognitive, and typological spelling error patterns of English language learners coming from 3 typologically different home language backgrounds

First Author/Chair:Sharmigaa Ragunathan -- University of Toronto
Additional authors/chairs: 
Esther Geva

Purpose: This study is part of a larger project that examined longitudinally cognitive, language and literacy skills of English Language Learners (ELLs) coming from Spanish, Chinese or Portuguese home language backgrounds. The focus of this presentation is on the typological, developmental, and cognitive processes that underlie orthographic error patterns in these 3 groups in Grade 2.

Method: The sample consisted of 179 ELLs (Spanish, N=69; Chinese, N=83; Portuguese, N=23) coming from 21 schools in a large multicultural Canadian region. The battery included cognitive-linguistic measures such as PPVT, PA, WM, RAN, and phonological STM. They also completed a pseudoword spelling dictation task of 16 monosyllabic pseudowords that resemble English words with either a consonant-consonant-vowel-consonant (CCVC- e.g., spiv) or consonant-vowel-consonant-consonant (CVCC- e.g., vist) structures.

Results: Spelling errors were examined in terms of onset, nucleus, and coda of each pseudoword reflecting substitution of another closer phoneme existing in their first language in terms of place and manner of articulation, and voicing of consonants, length, height, and tenseness of vowels, consonant cluster reduction, and phoneme omission. Analysis done so far indicate that the groups do not differ on the cognitive measures. However, certain spelling errors involving devoicing (spif), vowel length (speev), and consonant cluster reduction (piv) vary as a function of home language. Some developmental errors across all groups are evident as well (e.g., reversals or substitutions in digraphs such as /th/).

Conclusions: This study demonstrates the confluence of developmental, cognitive linguistic, and typological sources of difficulty in ELLs’ spelling.

Contributors to spelling in English as a foreign language among native Arabic speakers

First Author/Chair:Susie Russak -- Beit Berl College, Israel

Purpose: To date, the bulk of spelling research focuses on spelling in the first language (L1) or compares spelling processes across different languages. However, a large majority of people today must be able to spell in languages that are not their L1. The present study examines the contributors to English as a foreign language (EFL) spelling among 5th grade native Arabic speakers who began studying EFL in 3rd grade.
Method: 164 Arabic speaking 5th grade pupils (mean age = 11 years old) were tested on non-verbal skills, L1 and EFL tasks (phonological, orthographic, morphological awareness, word reading and spelling, RAN, letter name and sound knowledge - only English).
Results: Hierarchical linear regression analyses showed that non-verbal skills, L1 morphology and spelling contributed significantly to EFL spelling until EFL skills were added to the model. Then only EFL reading, orthographic choice (OC) and non-verbal scores contributed to EFL spelling. Additional analyses revealed an interaction between EFL reading and OC. The association between OC and spelling was significant only among the strongest readers, whereas the association between reading and spelling was significant for all levels of OC.
Conclusions: The cognitive and linguistic factors that explain spelling in EL1 may be different from those that explain spelling in EFL. These differences may result from typological or individual variables, or different stages of language acquisition. Theoretical and practical models of spelling should be linguistically inclusive in order to account for these cross-linguistic differences.


First Author/Chair:DISCUSSANT Gloria Ramirez -- Thompson Rivers University