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Syllabic organization and deafness: Orthographic structure or letter frequency in reading?

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For hearing people, structure given to orthographic information may be influenced by phonological structures that develop with experience of spoken language. In this study we examine whether profoundly deaf individuals structure orthographic representation differently. We ask "Would deaf students who are advanced readers show effects of syllable structure despite their altered experience of spoken language, or would they, because of reduced influence from speech, organize their orthographic knowledge according to groupings defined by letter frequency?" We used a task introduced by Prinzmetal (Prinzmetal, Treiman, & Rho, 1986) in which participants were asked to judge the colour of letters in briefly presented words. As with hearing participants, the number of errors made by deaf participants was influenced by syllable structure (Prinzmetal et al., 1986; Rapp, 1992). This effect could not be accounted for by letter frequency. Furthermore, there was no correlation between the strength of syllable effects and residual speech or hearing. Our results support the view that the syllable is a unit of linguistic organization that is abstract enough to apply to both spoken and written language.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, UK 2: Gallaudet University, Washington, DC, USA

Publication date: May 1, 2001


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