AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

The Influence of Orthographic Consistency on Eye Movement Behaviour in Word and Sentence Processing

by Anne Katrin Rau

Institution: Universität Tübingen
Year: 2015
Record ID: 1115034
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10900/62852


In reading science, studies carried out with English-speaking participants reading in their native language have traditionally formed the basis for most theories and models. From the 1990s, however, there was a continuously growing conviction that this English-based research agenda alone would not lead to a universal science of reading. A major reason why English is not a good basis for developing univerally applicable theories and models on reading and reading acquisition is that the English orthography is exceptionally inconsistent with regards to the relationship of letters and sounds (low grapheme-phoneme consistency). One consequence of this inconsistency is that for reading English linguistic processing rather relies on small lingusitic units, whereas for more consistent languages (such as German) large linguistic units are rather relied upon. (Psycholinguistic grain size theory (Ziegler & Goswami, 2005)) – for example ultimately leading to a relative delay regarding reading acquisition skills for children learning English. The research project presented here set out to deepen and broaden the understanding of this phenomenon. In three studies, both word processing and sentence processing in the consistent German and the inconsistent English orthography were investigated. Methodologically, I studied eye movement behaviour in both developing readers and adult readers. The studies reported here support the central claim of grain size theory. Study one investigated the transition in predominant reading strategy from serial sublexical decoding to more parallel lexical processing as a function of word frequency in the consistent German orthography. The least experienced readers of grade 2 were found to apply serial sublexical decoding as a default reading strategy to most items, largely independent of word frequency, whereas more experienced readers of grades 3 and 4, and adults, were increasingly relying on direct lexical access. Studies two and three investigated the influence of orthographic consistency on the time-course of word and sentence processing; now focusing on a cross-linguistic comparison. The two studies found evidence for more small-unit bottom-up processing on the part of the German, and more large-unit top-down processing on the part of the English readers, for both the local word level, and the global sentence level. The overall processing pattern differed between orthographies: while German readers showed a plodder-like reading style with more diligent first-pass reading and less re-reading, English readers showed an explorer-like reading style with more word skippings and more regressive eye movements. In sum, orthographic consistency impacts upon both local word recognition and global sentence processing, in both developing and skilled readers.