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When cues collide: children's sensitivity to letter- and meaning-patterns in spelling words in English*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2010

Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University
Address for correspondence: Hélène Deacon, Psychology Department, Dalhousie University, Life Sciences Centre, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 4J1. e-mail:


In many learning situations, we need to determine to which cues to attend, particularly in cases when these cues conflict. These conflicts appear often in English orthography. In two experiments, we asked children to spell two-syllable words that varied on two dimensions: morphological and orthographic structure. In one set of these words, the two sources of information conflicted. Results of Experiment 1 suggest that seven- to nine-year-old children are sensitive to both orthographic and morphological dimensions of words, and that this dual sensitivity sometimes leads to correct spelling and sometimes to incorrect spelling. Results of Experiment 2 suggest that orthographic information dominates young (six-year-old) children's spelling, at least in a case when there is a strong orthographic regularity. Taken together, these experiments suggest that children are sensitive to the multiple dimensions of regularity in English orthography and that this sensitivity can lead to mistakes.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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We are grateful for the generous support from the Chignecto Central School Board and the creative spellings from the children in Enfield and Elmsdale elementary schools.



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