Spelling as Statistical Learning: Using Consonantal Context to Spell Vowels

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Abstract

Although English lacks 1-to-1 relationships between sounds and spellings, considering the context in which a phoneme occurs can often aid in selecting a spelling. For example, /α/ is typically spelled as a when it follows /w/, as in wand, but as o when it follows other consonants, as in pond. In 2 experiments, the authors asked whether children's spellings of vowels in nonwords were affected by the following (Experiment 1) and preceding (Experiment 2) consonants. The participants in both experiments had spelling levels that ranged from kindergarten and 1st grade through high school. Children with higher levels of spelling skill took more advantage of context, and use of preceding context generally emerged earlier than use of following context. The results are interpreted within the framework of a statistical learning view of spelling and spelling development.

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