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LINGUIST List 16.3077

Tue Oct 25 2005

Diss: Cognitive Science: Bolger: 'Alphabetic Process...'

Editor for this issue: Meredith Valant <av8736wayne.edu>

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        1.    Patrick Bolger, Alphabetic Processing in English and Spanish

Message 1: Alphabetic Processing in English and Spanish
Date: 21-Oct-2005
From: Patrick Bolger <pbolgerualberta.ca>
Subject: Alphabetic Processing in English and Spanish

Institution: University of Arizona
Program: Second Language Acquisition and Teaching Program
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2005

Author: Patrick Bolger

Dissertation Title: Alphabetic Processing in English and Spanish

Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            Spanish (spa)

Dissertation Director:
Kenneth I Forster
Cecile M McKee
Janet I Nicol

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation used letter detection and masked priming to address four
questions: Are graphemes or letters more fundamental in low-level reading
processes? How does alphabetic-processing knowledge manifest in different
languages? Do bilinguals transfer such knowledge across languages? And do
young children also show such effects?

Some researchers have recently revived an old hypothesis in which
graphemes, not letters, are the fundamental, perceptual reading unit. This
can be tested by looking at congruency effects in a letter-detection task
with masked priming. Six groups participated: Spanish and English
monolingual adults; Spanish- and English-dominant bilingual adults;
Spanish-dominant bilingual children; and English monolingual children. The
experiments with adult monolinguals tested the letter- against the
grapheme-as-percept hypothesis. The experiments with developing bilinguals
examined whether they would transfer alphabetic-processing knowledge from
L1 to L2. And the experiments with English monolingual children probed how
early congruency effects with masked primes might occur.

Participants responded YES or NO depending on the presence of letters in
targets. Both congruent and incongruent masked primes preceded the targets.
Among the congruent primes, some contained double vowels, and others single
vowels. Assuming letters are fundamental, single- and double-vowel primes
in both languages should facilitate and inhibit reactions equally. Assuming
graphemes are fundamental, single-vowel primes in English, but not Spanish,
should facilitate and inhibit more because double vowels are digraphs in
English, and should therefore conceal the identity of their component
letters. Bilinguals should show L1-like effects in L2 if they transfer
alphabet-specific processing knowledge. Young children should simply show
congruency effects if they are able to process letter information

The results with Spanish and English monolinguals suggested that graphemes
do exert an effect on the task, but only after letters are perceived. This
has major implications for models of proficient reading. The results also
suggest that Spanish readers do not construct graphemes from letters, but
rather syllables and abstract syllable structure. Bilinguals showed
evidence of L1-L2 transfer at low levels of L2 proficiency. This has
implications for transitional bilingual education programs. And young
children showed congruency effects, which provides another link in
establishing the connection between literacy development and proficient

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