This study investigates the role of phonological and morphological information in children's developing orthographies in two languages with different linguistic typologies: Hebrew, a Semitic language with a highly synthetic morphology, and Dutch, a Germanic language with a sparse morphology.
192 Israeli and 192 Belgian monolingual schoolchildren in grades 1–6 (aged 6;0–12;0) were administered respective dictation tasks in which homophonous segments were the targets. In each language, these phonologically distinct segments are neutralized phonetically but are nevertheless represented orthographically. In both languages the target segments in the test words differed along two dimensions: (1) their morphological function as part of a stem or root versus as part of an affix; and (2) their morphophonological recoverability. The spelling tests in both languages consisted of four conditions which differed in the number and type of cues for retrieving the correct spelling of homophonous graphemes. The cues were of two types: morphological cues, which offer spellers clues to the correct spelling through consistent orthography/morphology mapping regularities; and morphophonological cues, which offer spellers clues to the correct spelling through the manipulation of orthography/morphophonology conversion procedures.
A central finding of this study is the differential treatment of morphological cues by Dutch and Hebrew spelling learners. When faced with neutralized segments with and without morphological function, Hebrew-speaking children find morphology an enormously helpful tool. Dutch-speaking children, in contrast, do not find morphology a good cue provider. The impact of typology on the interface between spoken and written language is invoked as an explanation of the main findings.