Identical words are read differently in different languages


  • Ziegler J
  • Perry C
  • Jacobs Am
  • Braun M

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It is hypothesized that written languages differ in the preferred grain size of units that emerge during reading acquisition. Smaller units (graphemes, phonemes) are thought to play a dominant role in relatively consistent orthographies (e.g., German), whereas larger units (bodies, rhymes) are thought to be more important in relatively inconsistent orthographies (e.g., English). This hypothesis was tested by having native English and German speakers read identical words and nonwords in their respective languages (zoo-Zoo, sand-Sand, etc.). Although the English participants exhibited stronger body-rhyme effects, the German participants exhibited a stronger length effect for words and nonwords. Thus, identical items were processed differently in different orthographies. These results suggest that orthographic consistency determines not only the relative contribution of orthographic versus phonological codes within a given orthography, but also the preferred grain size of units that are likely to be functional during reading.

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