Orthography and cognition

Dominiek Sandra
Table of contents

This contribution approaches orthography from two perspectives: a descriptive one and a cognitive one. From a descriptive point of view a writing system is a visual representation of a language, either by directly representing word meanings (logographic system) or by indirectly doing so through the representation of a word’s pronunciation (syllabic and alphabetic systems). The paper focuses on alphabetic orthographies. Such an orthography by definition encodes the phonemes of a word and may also encode a word’s morphological structure. The units that are encoded in an alphabetic orthography have important cognitive consequences. Even though the discovery of phonemes requires cognitive effort, teaching children to become aware of them is necessary in order to turn them into successful readers and spellers. Dyslexic individuals have notorious problems with phonemic awareness and other phonological skills. The discovery of morphemes comes more easily, even though there are circumstances when even highly experienced spellers are unable to spell some suffixes correctly when writing under time-pressure. The representation of morphemes in the orthography also has implications for the structure of the mental lexicon (morphological families) and for the way in which morphologically complex words are accessed (a process of blind morphological decomposition.

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