The spelling of vowels in school-aged children with typical and low language skills.

The spelling of vowels in school-aged children with typical and low language skills.

First Author: Lesly Wade-Woolley -- University of Alberta
Additional authors/chairs: 
Suzanne Adlof
Keywords: Prosody, Spelling, Language impairment, Morphology
Abstract / Summary: 

Whether a vowel falls in a stressed or unstressed syllable has a significant impact on how easy it is to identify, read, and spell (Bahr, Silliman, Berninger & Dow, 2012; Venezky, 1999). In English, vowels in unstressed syllables nearly always reduce to schwa, which can be spelled by any one of 16 graphemes (Treiman). Somewhat mitigating this complexity is the contribution of morphology through derivational suffixation: vowels that are reduced in a base word (e.g., the o in major) become full when the suffix -ity draws stress onto syllable before the suffix (i.e., majority). In this study, we compare the ability of children to spell vowels in morphologically-related word couplets, where the vowels appear alternately in stressed and unstressed syllables (AtOm-AtOmic). The research questions are (1) whether there is a difference in spelling performance between 10-year old children with typical (n=19) and low (n=24) language (CELF-5 or DELV < 85) as a function of word type (base vs derived) and syllable stress, and (2) whether vowel spelling performance is associated with prosodic awareness. Results showed that all children found it significantly more challenging to spell vowels in the unstressed syllables in derived words than in any other position/word type, and that children with low language were significantly more impaired than children with typical language at spelling vowels, particularly in unstressed syllables. Furthermore, performance on vowel spelling in all conditions was significantly correlated with prosodic awareness (r ranging from .36 - .43). Discussion will focus on possible explanations for patterns of results and implications for learning to read and spell in children with low language abilities.