[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 22, 1997/2 pp3-10]
[See other journal articles by Gwen Thorstad.]

Children's Responses to Simplified Spelling - Part 2.

Gwenllian Thorstad.

We here present Part 2 (reports on Studies 3 & 4) of a condensed account of research carried out in 1994-95. Part 1, with introduction and reports on Studies 1 & 2, appeared in JSSS J21, pp3-8.

Dr Thorstad worked as a tutor for educational psychologists at Tavistock Clinic 1964-86.

Abstract.

The rationale and circumstances of the research project are introduced and four linked studies (1 & 2 in the previous issue, and 3 & 4 here) presented as follows:

1. An investigation into how easily schoolchildren can read simplified spelling.

2. Children's preferences for the different spelling of vowels in the New Spelling, Equal Plus and Dash Plus simplified spelling systems.

3. Advantages and disadvantages of New Spelling, Equal Plus and Dash Plus, as used in a word recognition test.

4. To examine children's awareness of the function of letters in words: their opinions of the appropriateness of the traditional spelling of the 100 most frequently occurring words and their suggestions for improved spellings.

Study 3.

A comparison of New Spelling, Equal Plus and Dash Plus as used in the Graded Word Reading (word recognition) Test.

Following Studies 1 & 2, a more detailed analysis was made of the children's responses to the Graded Word Reading Test (GWRT) (Schonell & Schonell, 1950) in traditional orthography (TO) and transcribed into three simplified spelling alternatives, New Spelling (NS), Equal Plus (EP) and Dash Plus (DP). This test was useful because it only assessed word recognition instead of the more complex skill of comprehension involving sentences and meaning. Also, its 100 words provided an extensive scale that gave children's reading ability from 5 to 15 years, so providing scope to measure the ability of good and retarded readers aged from 9 to 11 years 11 months.

While administering the test, the impression was gained that some good readers could read nearly to the 15-year-level in simplified spelling (SS), as Downing (1997, p 226) had also found in the Initial Teaching Alphabet (i.t.a.). In order to investigate this further, it was decided to look at the mean scores and distributions of the good readers.

Since it is proposed to use some form of SS in remedial teaching, the means of the reading ability of retarded children on these forms of SS should be found to see if they read better on one or other of them. In addition, as a boy who could read in Spanish read better in SS than TO, results from children with English as a second languages (ESL) should be examined separately.

Lastly, although comparing total scores in reading TO with NS, EP and DP gives a useful, but still holistic, measure of the difficulty of the tasks, more information might be obtained if the success rate on individual words was examined. This technique was used by Thorstad (1991) in comparing the difficulties experienced by 6-year-old children in reading and spelling words with the same root in English TO, English i.t.a. and Italian, such as cement, sement and cemento.

Therefore the present investigation was undertaken in order to discover the easiest orthography, first by finding the mean word recognition results from all the children in the three orthographies, then from the subgroups of good readers, retarded readers and ESL children, and lastly by finding for each word the orthography in which it was read correctly most frequently.

Method.
Subjects.
The subjects were the same as those in Study 1, plus 14 other children who had taken the GWRT test but were absent for one or more of the comprehension tests, so had not been included in the initial battery of results. The 29 9-year-olds had a mean chronological age of 9 years 8 months and a mean TO GWRT age of 10 years 10 months; 35 10-year-olds had a mean chronological age of 10 yrs 5 months and a mean TO GWRT age of 11 years 0 months; and 38 11-year-olds had a mean chronological age of 11 years 4 months and a TO GWRT age of 10 years 2 months. As the 9-year-olds had a mean reading age well above their chronological age, the 10-year-olds a reading age appropriate to their chronological age and 11- year-olds a mean reading age below their chronological age, it was decided to amalgamate the 10- and 11-year-olds. This produced a group of 73 children with a mean chronological age of 11 years 0 months and a mean TO reading age of 10 years 7 months which was statistically no different to the 9-year-olds.

The 9-year-olds contained many good readers, hence the mean reading age well above their chronological age. By contrast, the 10- and 11-year-olds, while containing some good readers in TO, had 1/3 who were more than 2 years retarded in reading, so lowering the mean score considerably, and about 1/6 of the children were ESL, most of them also retarded in reading.

Material.
The GWRT, used by Downing (1967) to evaluate i.t.a., was chosen because it required the subjects to read aloud, so that only a correctly pronounced word was acceptable. Using Venezky's classification (Venezky 1970), 8 words, milk, sit, frog, bun, think at the beginning and enigma, oblivion and statistics towards the end, can be described as predictable and invariant, 89 words as predictable and variant, beginning with tree, little and book and ending with bibliography and idiosyncrasy, and 3 words, people, island and colonel, as unpredictable. The same test was used in NS for all age groups, in EP for the 10- and 11-year-olds and DP for the 9-year-olds. DP differed from EP only by use of a dash (-) instead of an equal sign (=) to indicate long vowels (Study 2).

Procedure.
As described in Study 1, the children were heard to read individually after they had already been introduced to the simplified orthographies in the comprehension tests. The same notes and examples that had been used in the first study were used again. Half of them read the TO version first and half either the NS, or the EP or DP version. The order was reversed for the other half with a 20 min interval in between.

Results.
There was no statistical difference between the 9-year-olds' GWRT TO mean score of 10 years 10 months and their combined NS and DP mean of 10 years 7 months, nor between the 10- to 11-year olds GWRT TO mean score of 10 years 7 months and combined NS and EP mean of 10 years 8 months. There was also no statistical difference between the 9-year-olds and 10- to 11-year-olds mean TO reading ages. As usual there was a high correlation between the children's scores in TO and SS in both age groups.

Only the older group was subdivided into good and retarded readers because it had more of both than the younger group. There were 38 good readers, whose TO reading age was above their chronological age. They were divided into two groups, 20 who read the GWRT in TO and NS and 18 who read the GWRT in TO and EP. There was no significant difference between the mean TO reading age of 12 years 0 months and the mean NS reading age of 12 years 2 months in the first group, nor between the mean TO reading age of 12 years 1 months and the mean EP reading age of 11 years 9 months in the second group. Nor was there any significant difference between the mean reading ages of 12 years 2 months in NS or 11 years 9 months in EP. Thus although individual children showed a striking ability to read more difficult words up to the 14 year-old-level, they were also failing to read more frequent NS words, so the mean scores were no different to the TO mean.

Again in the older group, the 25 retarded readers had TO reading ages at least 2 years below their chronological age. They were divided into two groups, 12 who had read the GWRT in TO and NS and 13 who had read the GWRT in TO and EP. Both groups had a mean TO reading age of 8 years 8 months, and there was no significant difference between this and the mean NS reading age of 8 years 11 months in the first group nor with the EP mean of 8 years 9 months in the second group. Nor was there a significant difference in the mean scores of the two groups in NS and EP. So the expectation that they would be able to read significantly more words in some form of SS was not supported.

Within the reading retarded group were all the 12 ESL children. Their results showed no clear trend, 4 scored higher in NS or EP than TO, 3 scored higher in TO than in NS or EP, and 5 obtained the same score in NS or EP as in TO. So the expectation that the ESL children would read better in NS or EP was not supported.

Children in both age groups, 9-year-olds and 10- and 11-year-olds, scored well in TO until about the average TO reading age of 10 years 6 months, when they rapidly started to fail. To pursue this observation further, the orthography obtaining the largest number of correct responses was noted for each word. In both age groups the largest number of correct responses in the first 50 words was in TO, whereas in the last 50 words they were in SS, particularly NS.

In order to look at the success rate of each of the 100 individual words, the number of children getting each word correct was first transformed into a percentage. The TO words were next written in a column beginning with those that all the children could read, so scoring 100 per cent, down to the last three words which nobody read in TO: somnambulist, fictitious, idiosyncrasy. This was approximately the same order as in the test. The results in NS, DP and EP were written beside the appropriate TO word.

The success rate for each individual word in TO, NS, EP and DP was then examined for statistically significant differences using chi square and these confirmed the simple count that they were in the second half of the tests. The 14 9-year-olds read 5 words significantly better in NS than in TO: colonel/curn*l (10%/64%), scintillate/sintilaet (17%/57%), pneumonia/nuemoenia (14%/50%), grotesque/groetesk(10%/43%) and sepulchre/sepulk*r (3%/57%); while one word, colonel/curn+l (22%/61%) was read better in DP. The 36 10- and 11-year-olds read 10 words better in NS than in TO: siege/seej (40%/61%), diseased/dizeezd (37%/67%), antique/anteek (34%.64%), adamant/ad*m*nt (26%/47%), colonel/curnel (10%/64%), sabre/saeb*r (11%/44%), pneumonia/nuemoenia (10%/64%), belligerent/belij*r*nt (10%/39%), grotesque/groetesk (3%/22%) and conscience/consh*ns (16%/42%). Four words were read more correctly in EP than TO: colonel/curn+l (22%/46%), pneumonia/nu=mo=nia (10%/35%), beligerent/belij+r+nt (10%/30%), grotesque/gro=tesk (3%/16%).

Next the success rates in reading NS, DP and EP were compared. Six words were read significantly more frequently in NS than EP or DP, 3 by the 9-year-old children: int*rseed/int+rse‑d(50%/0%), suseptib*l/suseptib+l (21%/13%), sepulc*r/sepulk+r (57%/0%); and 3 by the 10- and 11-year-olds: saeb*r/sa=b*r (44%/27%), ad*m*nt/ad+mn+t (47%/19%), nuemoenia/nu=mo=nia (64%/35%). Other results favoured the NS orthography, but were not quite significant.

All these words appear in the second half of the test, read by the good readers. In contrast, the TO words which were read significantly more frequently than any SS version were found in the first half of the test. In the 9-year-olds 6 words were read significantly more correctly in TO than NS: light/liet (100%/71%), beginning/beegining (100%/78%), postage/poestij (100%/64%), knowledge/nolej (76%/21%), physics/fizics (86%/50%), choir/cwie*r (89%/14%) and 3 in TO rather than DP: light/li-t (100%/73%), diseased/dize-zd (72%/20%), choir/kwi-+r (89%/20%). The 10- to 11-year-olds read 4 words more accurately in TO than NS: playing/plaeing (98%/78%), light/liet (97%/69%), postage/poestij (89%/69%), choir/cwie*r (64%/47%) and 2 in TO rather than EP light/li=t (97%/57%), choir/kwi=+r (64%/30%).

The words which were read better in NS than in TO, EP or DP were then examined in order to identify significant orthographic features.

1. Silent letters were omitted and double consonants simplified: noem 'gnome', aplaud 'applaud', sintilaet 'scintillate', nuemoenia 'pneumonia', belij*r*nt 'belligerent', sepulc*r 'sepulchre'.

2. The simplest, most frequent manner of representing a phoneme was used:

a) A consonant which most frequently represents a particular phoneme was used: dizeezed 'diseased', belij*r*nt 'beligerent', seej 'siege', anteek 'antique', groetesk 'grotesque', sepulc*r 'sepulchre'.

b) An infrequent digraph was replaced by a frequent digraph: consh*ns 'conscience'.

c) A vowel sounded as schwa was replaced by *: ad*m*nt 'adamant', int*rseed 'intercede', susept*b*l 'susceptible', curn*l 'colonel', b*lij*er*nt 'belligerent'.

d) The long vowel marker was placed immediately after the vowel concerned: noem 'gnome', dizeezd 'diseased', nuemoenia 'pneumonia', seej 'siege', anteek 'antique', sintilaet 'scintillate', groetesk 'grotesque', int*rseed 'intercede'.


Conclusions.
Neither the good nor the retarded readers were able to read any better in NS, EP or DP than in TO. Indeed it was remarkable how nearly identical their reading ages were and how significant the correlations. As, apart from having single instead of double consonants, the differences in the orthography were mainly in the vowels, this suggests that the information they were absorbing came mainly from the consonants, which may have formed a framework for word recognition. At least the results showed that more children were able to learn to read the SS orthographies with no teaching and minimal introduction as effectively as TO.

Regarding the supposition that ESL children may find reading in SS easier than TO, it would seem that success depended on their experience in reading their first language and how transparent it was. The Spanish 9-year-old boy who read EP considerably better than TO, could already read Spanish, which has a predictable orthography. It would be necessary to repeat the test with more children and make a detailed enquiry into the nature of their experience in reading their first language and how predictable and invariant the orthography was.

The better reading in SS than TO was seen in the last 40 words of the test, from a reading age of 11 to 15 years. In the 9-year-olds five NS words were read significantly more frequently than in TO, and 10 NS words in the 10-to11-year-olds, while 3 NS words were read more frequently than EP and 3 more frequently than in DP. Thus NS was the easiest orthography and enabled children to read infrequent words, even words which they scarcely understood.

Considering the differences between these words in TO and NS, it is seen that they incorporate the changes that the children advocated in the initial discussion: that silent letters should be eliminated, eg, P in pneumonia and one letter of a consonant pair, eg, L in scintillate; that a letter which has a single sound should be preferred to one with two sounds, eg, the J for G in belij*r*nt. These changes are also incorporated into EP and DP. The success in NS suggests children prefer Sh, a familiar digraph, in conscience/consh*ns to SI in EP consi+nce. Children also prefer the signal E for a long vowel in NS, rather than '=' or '-' as in EP and DP.

The results suggest that the good readers understood the TO code system up to the 10-year-old level and read as well in SS. It was noticeable that they could read the familiar spellings of physics and choir with their Greek roots, but not the simpler fizics and unfamiliar cwie*r or kwi=+r. Yet as they continued on to less frequent words at the 14 year level, such as belligerent/belij*rent and grotesque/groetesk, they could read them in NS but not in TO.

The fact that the retarded reader can read fasinaet (10-year-old level), but not liet (7-year-old level), and the good reader sintilaet (12-year-old level), but not fizics (9-year-old level), suggests that, in this brief experience with SS, newly learnt TO words with constructions such as ight and ph are learnt as whole words rather than a code to be used instead of ITE and F. One aspect of these SS forms which may present a problem to readers are words which have no consonant to mark the onset of the second syllable. The retarded readers had difficulty in reading plaeing (5-year-old level), and the good readers cwie*r (10-year-old level).

With these children there was no automatic advantage in SS, but if they already had a phonic approach to discovering how words are pronounced, were not afraid of long words, could sound out each syllable systematically and blend them together to make words, then they achieved more successes in SS than in TO. But if they found reading difficult, were now retarded and had been using the technique of sounding out the first one or two letters and then guessing, they had few strategies to use and did no better in SS than with TO. It therefore seems that weak readers need a structured remedial programme if they are to use SS effectively to gain confidence and experience in a systematic approach, and to advance from three letter words to polysyllables. It is these new reading skills which are likely to be valuable in transferring from SS back to TO.


Study 4.

To discover how aware the children were of the function of letters in words by asking their opinion of the appropriateness of the spellings in TO of the 100 most frequent words, and, if they thought the spelling inappropriate, which other spelling they would prefer.

If children are taught to read by the whole-word or still more with the whole-book method, their attention is not drawn to letters (graphemes) and their sounds (phonemes) other than to identify the first phoneme in a word. Even if they are taught by a more structured and analytic method, which includes the phonemes of individual graphemes and clusters of graphemes, their opinion about the suitability of the graphemes is never asked. If they have a specific learning difficulty, they may often protest with anger about the many alternative phonemes that a grapheme may represent, but the veracity of their protests is ignored, owing to lack of time and/or fear of confusing them further.

When considering spelling reform, adopting American practices such as not doubling the last consonant of an unstressed syllable before a suffix, is often suggested, but this is not relevant to beginning readers. For them, the spelling of the most frequent words in children's reading books and in their speech vocabulary is central. The 300 words in the Key Words to literacy and the teaching of reading by McNally & Murray (1968) represent the necessary core for all beginners' reading practice. It was compiled from words which were common to other well-known word lists, to children's common vocabulary and to vocabulary in reading primers (ibid. pp44-55). The list was refined by considering the number of times each word had appeared in each of 12 studies. If they appeared frequently they were rated A or B, if rarely they were discarded. The borderline words were then reassessed, which resulted in C and D categories of readability.

This refining process left 12 words in category A (about 25 per cent of all reading), 20 in B (10 per cent of all reading), and 68 in C (20 per cent of all reading). Together these 100 words made up about 55 per cent of all reading. A further 150 words in D category only added another 10-15 per cent of all reading. These 250 Key Words formed the foundation of a new reading scheme, the Ladybird reading books. In the present study only the first 100 words in categories A, B and C have been used (Table 4a).

Thorstad (1991) showed that children learn to read faster when the orthography is predictable and invariant, as in the Initial Teaching Alphabet (i.t.a.) or in Italian, than in TO. Just how difficult TO is for the beginning reader is revealed in MacNally and Murray's first 100 words. If Venezky's (1970) classification is applied to these words, which are used most frequently both in children's speech and in their readers, only 27 are predictable and invariant (column X), 57 predictable and variant (column Y) and 16 unpredictable (column Z) (Table 4a). Even in the 12 words of category A only five words are predictable and invariant (a, and, in, it, that), while four are predictable and variant (he, is, to, was) and three are unpredictable (I, of, the).

Table 4a.
The first 100 Key Words classified according to frequency into groups:
A - the 12 most frequent words (25% of all reading),
B - the 20 next most frequent words (10% of all reading),
C - the 68 next most frequent words (15% of all reading).
The same words cross-classified according to Venezky's main types of orthography:
X - predictable and in-variant,
Y - predictable but variant,
Z - unpredictable.

Frequency
Category

% of words
Spelling
type X: 

predictable variant
Spelling
type Y:

predictable variant
Spelling
type Z:

unpredictable
A 25%a and in it that he is to was I of the
B 10%at but had him not on with as all be for his so they weare have one said you
C 15% an can big did from get if just much must them then this up went about back been before by call came come could do down first go her here has into like little look made make me more my no new now off old or our other out over right see she some there when well will where which only their two want were what who your

The average child takes 10 years, from ages 5 to 15, before being able to read all the words on the Graded Word Reading Test (GWRT) (Schonell & Schonell, 1950). Therefore it is not surprising that those with a problem in learning sight vocabulary easily are never able to read to the end of the test while they are in school. Nearly all students are eventually able to read the most frequent predictable invariant words, where there is a transparent relationship between grapheme and phoneme, such as sit, but children with a severe specific learning difficulty find the predictable variant words particularly confusing, where the same groups of vowels have alternative pronunciations. For these words a knowledge of the same-level constraints of phonotaxis, graphotaxis and alternations, as well as of the high-level constraints of morphology and etymology is necessary (Henderson, 1982). Berdiansky, Cronnell & Koehler (1969) found that 166 rules were needed to pronounce 6092 one- and two-syllable words in the vocabularies of 9-year-old children, and still 10 per cent were exceptions. Similarly, Hanna, Hanna, Hodges & Rudorf (1966) found that 200 'rules' were needed to translate phonemes into graphemes with 50 per cent success.

It was considered likely that:
1. The more advanced the reading, the more the child would know of the relationship between graphemes (and groups of graphemes) and their phonemes. They would also be more aware of orthographic inconsistencies, and be more ready and able to suggest alternative spellings, while poorer readers, having been defeated by the unpredictability of TO, have not such keen awareness and experience. It was therefore expected that there would be a positive relationship between the ability to read the words of increasing difficlty in the GWRT, criticize the orthography of the Key Words and suggest alternative spellings.

2. All the group would agree more frequently with the orthography of words that are predictable and invariant rather than with those words which are predictable and variant or unpredictable.

3. The alternative spellings suggested would conform to the views expressed in class discussions: that one of a doubled consonant and silent letters should be omitted, and Z should sometimes be written for S, eg, hiz for his.

4. The children would prefer long vowels to be indicated with an extra E (NS) or a dash (DP) following the vowel.

Method.
Subjects.
The 9-year-old class of 29 children chosen had a mean chronological age of 9 years 8 months with a mean word recognition age of 10 years 10 months on the GWRT with a reading age range from 8 to 13 years. This indicates higher than expected reading ability, which may be due to the systematic phonically based reading tuition at the school.

Materials and Procedure.
There was first a 10 minute class discussion about the irregularity of English spelling and examples the children gave were written on the blackboard. The children were reminded of the two different types of alternative spelling, NS and DP, both verbally and by each being given a typed sheet of the codes. They had seen them in the previous weeks both in a comprehension test and in the word recognition test. Then a list of the first 125 words of the 'Key Words' together with a pencil was given out (Table 4a). Although only the first 100 words from sections A, B and C were going to be scored, the other 25 had been added from section D to provide work for those finishing early, so that they remained in their seats and did not disturb the others after finishing the first 100. The children were asked to tick those words where they agreed with the spelling and to put their preferred spelling by the words they felt needed changing. The orthography of the first 5 words (a, and, he, I, in) was discussed one by one together as a class, then each child ticked it, if they thought it need not be changed, and wrote in their preferred orthography if they thought it should be. Then the children were asked to continue at their own pace. Some of them just finished the first 100 words in the 30 minutes allowed, whereas one or two went on to the end.

Treatment of Results.
1 The 100 words were written across the top of a chart.The children's identification numbers were entered in the first column. The squares under each word were marked if a child agreed with the TO spelling, and their recommended spelling if not.

2. The number of words that each child wanted to correct was noted in the last column.

3. The type of spelling change advocated most frequently was noted at the foot of each column.

Results.
1. The relationship between the children's word recognition ability and their perception of inconsistencies between the orthography and the pronunciation of words was assessed by calculating the correlation between the children's scores on the GWRT and the number of Key Words whose orthography they considered needed changing. The correlation was 0.24 (P < .177), which is positive, but not statistically significant. In general, as the reading age increased, so did the child's ability to notice inconsistencies in the orthography, but there was an occasional good reader who seemed to be scarcely aware of the relationships between phonemes and graphemes, and the occasional retarded reader who relied on a phonic approach which often failed because it was too simplistic.

2. The Key Words were then arranged in descending order from words where all the 29 children agreed with the orthography, such as a and and, down to be, with which no child agreed. The numbers agreeing were then converted to percentages (Table 4b). Only 16 words received 100 per cent agreement, 14 of which had a predictable invariant orthography, whereas of the last ten words, where from 69 per cent to 100 per cent of children disagreed with the orthography, 9 were either predictable and variant, or unpredictable.

Out of the 29 children a mean of 25.67 (95%) children agreed with the orthography of the 27 predictable invariant words, a mean of 17.89 (62%) agreed with the 57 predictable variant words and a mean of 15.50 (53%) agreed with the 16 unpredictable words. The difference between the means of the predictable invariant and predictable variant words was significant (t = 5.25 d.f. 82 p < .001), and between the predictable invariant and unpredictable words (t = 4. 921 d. f. 41 p < .001). There was no significant difference between the means of the predictable invariant and unpredictable words t = 1.22 d. f. 72 p < .23. This revealed that the majority of children did not want to change the orthography of the predictable invariant words, but were dissatisfied with the others. An analysis of variance of 16. 31 d. f. 99 p < .001 confirmed this result.

3. To see if the children's suggestions followed some systematic rules, the most frequent logical suggestions were recorded in Table 4b. The change had to be recommended by 2 or more children.

a) Predictable invariant words These included all words with one acceptable phoneme per grapheme or digraph. Disagreement with the spelling was not expected, yet only 14 (52%) of the spellings were accepted by all the children. The most frequent change wanted by 24 children was for TH in that to be written D, 4 also wanted D in then 'den', them 'dem' and this 'dis'. Three children wanted to change TH in with to V 'wiv' and 2 to F 'wif'.

b) Predictable variant words Only now was accepted by all the children. The largest number of changes, 48 to 93 per cent, were to the monosyllabic words ending in S (as, is, has, his), for which 21 children would have preferred Z in az, 27 in iz, 14 in haz and 20 in hiz. Other generally agreed changes were omission of one of a doubled consonant: 6 children wanted wel for well, 12 wanted wil for will and 5 wanted litle for little; also favoured was omission of silent letters, such as H in when (7 children), where (3 children) and which (2 children), L in could (13 children), U in your (12 children) and E in come (6 children), some (6 children) and more (10 children). Seven children used OO for do and 3 for into. As in the predictable invariant words, D for TH was written in there by three. In total changes were wanted by some children in 56 of the 57 words (98 per cent of the words).

c) Unpredictable words The children wanted to change the spelling of all the words except I. Alternative spellings given were ov (of) by 27 children, woz (was) by 28, der (the) by 7, ar (are) by 15, hav (have) by 13, won (one) by 10, sed (said) by 9, dey (they) by 5, u (you) by 12, onlie (only) by 2, der (their) by 3, too (two) by 12, wont (want) by 3, wer (were) by 2, wot (what) by 5 and hoo (who) by 5. U for you is not acceptable in NS or DP, but was included because so many suggested it, perhaps by analogy with I. Thus changes were wanted by some in 16 words out of the 17 (94 per cent).

4 Regarding the vowel changes, DP was preferred in the following words: be-n (17%), ca-m (7%), he- (60%), ma-k (71%), mi- (21%), se- (14%), she- (7%), so- (7%), and NS in bee (55%), wee (38%), and mee (17%). No alternative was given for O in old and over and there was no Key Word in the first 100 words with a long U.

Table 4b. Percentages of children agreeing with the orthography of the first 100 Key Words classified according to frequency into A, B & C, and predictable invariant, predictable variant and unpredictable groups, and their suggestions for more appropriate orthography.

Predictable Invariant Words     Unpredictable Words
AgreementSuggestion   AgreementSuggestion
 N%  N%   N%  N%
Frequency category A  Frequency category A
a
and
in
it
that
29
29
29
29
5
100
100
100
100
17
-
-
-
-
dat
-
-
-
-
23
-
-
-
-
79
  I
of
the
29
2
22
100
7
76
-
ov
der
-
27
7
-
93
24
Frequency category B  Frequency category B
at
but
had
him
not
on
with
29
25
29
25
29
27
15
100
86
100
86
100
93
52
-
-
-
-
-
-
wiv
-
-
-
-
-
-
2
-
-
-
-
-
-
7
  are
have
one
said
you
6
10
13
13
14
21
13
45
45
48
ar
hav
won
sed
U
15
13
10
9
12
52
45
34
31
41
Frequency category C  Frequency category C
an
can
big
did
from
get
if
just
much
must
them
then
this
up
went
29
25
28
29
27
29
21
27
29
29
20
20
22
29
29
100
86
97
100
93
100
72
93
100
100
69
69
76
100
100
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
dem
den
dis
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
4
4
5
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
14
14
17
-
-
  only
their
two
want
were
what
who
your
22
16
15
24
23
18
20
18
76
55
52
83
79
62
69
62
onlie
der
too
wont
wer
wot
hoo
yor
2
3
12
3
2
5
5
5
7
10
41
10
7
17
17
17


Predictable Variant Words     Predictable Variant Words
AgreementSuggestion   AgreementSuggestion
 N%  N%   N%  N%
Frequency category A  Frequency category B
he
is
to
was
1
2
12
1
3
7
41
3
he-
iz
too
woz
19
27
17
28
60
93
59
97
  as
all
be
for
his
so
we
they
8
28
0
19
5
19
13
13
28
97
0
66
17
66
45
45
az
-
bee
vor
hiz
so-
wee
dey
21
-
15
3
20
2
11
5
72
-
52
10
69
7
38
17
Frequency category C  Frequency category C contd.
about
back
been
before
by
call
came
come
could
do
down
first
go
has
her
here
into
like
little
look
made
make
28
17
16
14
14
25
21
17
10
21
24
15
21
9
26
23
22
23
16
20
19
18
97
59
55
48
48
86
72
59
34
72
83
52
72
31
90
79
76
79
55
69
66
62
-
bak
be-n
befor
bi
-
ca-m
com
coud
doo
-
ferst
gow
haz
herr
-
intoo
lik
litle
lok
-
me-k
-
7
5
12
8
-
2
6
13
7
-
3
2
14
2
-
3
3
5
2
-
2
-
24
17
41
28
-
7
21
45
24
-
10
7
48
7
-
10
10
17
7
-
7
  me
more
my
no
new
now
off
old
or
our
other
out
over
right
see
she
some
there
when
well
where
which
will
13
18
16
22
19
29
22
28
27
16
21
22
26
14
15
27
13
18
19
18
17
23
23
45
62
55
76
66
100
76
97
3
55
72
76
90
48
52
93
45
62
66
62
59
79
79
mee
mor
mi-
-
-
-
ov
-
-
-
over
owt
-
rite
se-
-
som
der
wen
wel
wer
witch
wil
5
10
6
-
-
-
2
-
-
-
2
3
-
7
4
-
6
3
7
6
3
2
2
17
34
21
-
-
-
7
-
-
-
7
10
-
4
14
-
21
10
24
21
10
7
7

Discussion.

There was a tendency for better readers to make more spelling changes, suggesting that their literacy skills enabled them to be more aware of the function of the letters in words, and the lack of consistency in English TO. The slow readers were scarcely able to make any relevant suggestions. The one exception was the boy who could read in Spanish, which has a predictable and mainly invariant orthography. He scored a higher reading age on the GWRT in DP (10 years 9 months) than in TO (8 years 1 month). One good reader (reading age 13 years 4 months) made 62 suggestions.

There was a strong association between the number of words whose orthography the children wanted to change and the degree of predictability in the spelling. All 29 children agreed with 14 of the 27 predictable invariant words, whereas they only agreed with 1 of the 57 predictable variant words and 1 of the 16 unpredictable words. The less predictable the orthography, the more they wanted to change it. Many of the changes had been suggested in the initial discussion, which indicates that they had already given considerable thought to the inconsistencies of English TO. It also seemed that they do not differentiate greatly between predictable variant words and unpredictable words, probably owing to lack of knowledge about spelling rules. Thus they do not recognise what predictability there is in the predictable variant words.

When adults classify spellings they mainly use the two terms: regular and irregular. This presents a conflict in how to classify common words, such as he and to, which come in McNally and Murray's class A, yet they cannot be pronounced from alphabetic knowledge. Venezky's classification avoids this dilemma and reveals that the only true regular words are those that can be read alphabetically, as in Frith's second stage of the acquisition of reading (Frith 1985). The children's opinions support this classification.

The type of disagreement also differed between the predictable invariant, predictable variant and unpredictable words. The principal disagreement with the predictable invariant words was that some children wanted to substitute the letter D for Th, as in dat for that. The same preference was also seen less frequently in them, then, this and the, they, there, their in the predictable variant and unpredictable words. It is often assumed that such a pronunciations are only associated with a particular culture, but as five of these children wanted to change the TH in with to F or V, there is the possibility that they, at least, had delayed development in auditory discrimination. Alternatively, some children may be trying to discriminate between voiced and voiceless TH which is so essential for foreigners.

The children used the suggestions made in the class discussions for the predictable variant and unpredictable words. More than half the children wanted a Z at the end of the monosyllables ending in S, as in az for as. They wanted to eliminate silent letters, the L in will and could and the functionless E at the end of words such as come. It is interesting that when changing the orthography of a word they used the auditory analysis of the alphabetic phase of sound to letter awareness found by Frith (1980) in spelling. Reading and spelling then become a reversible process. These suggestions made for the predictable variant words and unpredictable words are the same as those made by adults in New Spelling (Archer & Ripman, 1948) and Cut Spelling (Upward, 1996).

The children did not show a preference for either indicating a long vowel with an extra E as in NS or a dash as in DP following the vowel. There was a tendency to use an extra E (NS) to denote a long E in a word where it could be used to denote another meaning such as in bee for be, or a dash as in DP to lengthen other vowels, such as ca-m for came

Venezky's categories reveal what a barrier predictable variant and unpredictable words are to some children learning to read. Approximately 18 per cent of children have some degree of difficulty in reading (ALBSU, 1994). One general characteristic is that they have an inadequate sight vocabulary, so need to be taught by a phonic method in which they sound each letter of a word individually before putting them together, yet the letters of TO do not always have the same sounds. Even in the first 12 words found in a quarter of all reading only 5 words are predictable and invariant: a, and, in, it, that. The 3 which are predictable and variant would be more easily read if spelt as the children suggest he/hee 'he', iz'is', too 'to', and 2 of the 4 unpredictable words, of and was as ov and woz. Italian children can learn to read in their first year in school if they have no severe specific difficulty, because the orthography is predictable and invariant (Thorstad, 1991). For the same reason reading and spelling become reversible processes. They can spell long unknown words, such as percettibileat the same age, except that they may omit a T.

English students of 11 years severely retarded in reading can learn to read to their age level in three months in i.t.a. and then transfer to the same level in TO. It seems as though the skills and confidence that they have acquired in the predictable invariant orthography in i.t.a.enable them to confront with success the predictable variant and unpredictable words in TO, which hitherto have prevented progress.


References.

(More references in Pt I, JSSS J21 1997/1, p8)

(ALBSU) Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit (1994) The Basic Skills of Young Adults, London: ALBSU. [See review.]

Archer, W. & Ripman, W. (1948) New Spelling, London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons.

Berdiansky, Cronnell & Koehler (1969). Spelling-sound relationships and primary form-class descriptions for speech-comprehension vocabularies of 6-9-year-olds. Cited in F. Smith (1973), Psycholinguistics and Reading, pp87-89. London: Holt Rinehart & Winston.

Downing, J. (1967) Evaluating the Initial Teaching Alphabet, London: Cassell.

Frith, U. (1980). Unexpected Spelling Problems. In Uta Frith (ed) (1980), Cognitive Processes in Spelling. London: Academic Press.

Frith, U. (1985). Beneath the surface of developmental dyslexia. In K.E. Patterson, J. C. Marshall and M. Coltheart (ed), Surface Dyslexia. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Hanna, P. R., Hanna, J. S., Hodges R. E. & Rudorf, E. H. (1966) Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences as Cues to Spelling Improvement, Washington DC: US Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Henderson, L. (1982). Orthography and Word Recognition in Reading. London: Academic Press.

McNally, J, & Murray, W. (1968) Key Words to Literacy and the Teaching of Reading, London: Schoolmaster Publishing Co.

Schonell, F. J. & Schonell, F. E. (1950) Diagnostic and Attainment Testing, Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd.

Thorstad, G. (1991) 'The effect of orthography on the acquisition of literacy skills' in British Journal of Psychology 82, pp527-537. [See summary.]

Upward, C. (2nd revised and amended edition, 1996) Cut Spelling: a handbook to the simplification of written English by omission of redundant letters, Birmingham: Simplified Spelling Society.

Venezky, R. L. (1970) The Structure of English Orthography, The Hague: Mouton.


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