Expanding the scope of orthographic effects: evidence from phoneme counting in first, second, and unfamiliar languages




Pytlyk, Carolyn

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This research expands our understanding of the relationship between orthographic knowledge and phoneme perception by investigating how orthographic knowledge affects phoneme perception not only in the first language (L1) but also in the second language (L2), and an unfamiliar language (L0). Specifically, this research sought not only to confirm that L1 orthographic knowledge influences L1 phoneme perception, but also to determine if L1 orthographic knowledge influences L2 and L0 phoneme perception, particularly as it relates to native English speakers. Via a phoneme counting task, 52 participants were divided into two experimental groups—one with a Russian L0 and one with a Mandarin L0—and counted phonemes in words from their L1 (English) and L0. In addition, two subgroups of participants also counted phonemes in their L2 (either Russian or Mandarin). The stimuli for each language were organized along two parameters: 1) match (half with consistent letter-phoneme correspondences and half with inconsistent correspondences) and 2) homophony (half with cross-language homophonous counterparts and half without homophonous counterparts). The assumption here was that accuracy and RT differences would indicate an effect of orthographic knowledge on phoneme perception. Four-way repeated measures ANOVAs analysed the data along four independent factors: group, language, homophone, and match. Overall, the results support the hypotheses and indicate that L1 orthographic knowledge facilitates L1 and L0 phoneme perception when the words have consistent letter-phoneme correspondences but hinders L1 and L0 phoneme perception when the words have inconsistent correspondences. Similarly, the results indicate that L2 orthographic knowledge facilitates L2 phoneme perception with consistent words but hinders L2 phoneme perception with inconsistent words. On a more specific level, results indicate that not all letter-phoneme mismatches are equal in terms of their effect on phoneme perception, for example mismatches in which one letter represents two sounds (e.g., <x> = /ks/) influence perception more so than do mismatches in which one or more letters are silent (e.g. <sh> = /ʃ/). Findings from this research support previous claims that orthographic and phonological information are co-activated in speech processing even in the absence of visual stimuli (e.g., Blau et al., 2008; Taft et al., 2008; Ziegler & Ferrand 1998), and that listeners are sensitive to orthographic information such that it may trigger unwanted interference when the orthographic and phonological systems provide conflicting information (e.g., Burnham, 2003; Treiman & Cassar, 1997). More importantly, findings show that orthographic effects are not limited to L1. First, phoneme perception in unfamiliar languages (L0) is also influenced by L1 orthography. Second, phoneme perception in L2 is influenced by L2 orthgraphic interference. In fact, L2 orthographic effects appear to override any potential L1 orthographic effects, suggesting orthographic effects are language-specific. Finally, the preliminary findings on the different types of letter-phoneme mismatches show that future research must tease apart the behaviours of different kinds of letter-phoneme inconsistencies. Based on the findings, this dissertation proposes the Bipartite Model of Orthographic Knowledge and Transfer. The model identifies two components within L1 orthographic knowledge: abstract and operational. The model predicts that abstract L1 orthographic knowledge (i.e., the general assumptions and principles about the function of orthography and its relationship to phonology) transfers into nonnative language processing regardless of whether the listeners/speakers are familiar with the nonnatiave language (e.g., Bassetti, 2006; Vokic, 2011). In contrast, the model predicts that operational knowledge (i.e., what letters map to what phonemes) transfers into the nonnative language processing in the absence of nonnative orthographic knowledge (i.e., the L0), but does not transfer in the presence of nonnative orthographic knowledge (i.e., the L2). Rather, L2-specific operational knowledge is created based partly on the transferred abstract knowledge. The research here contributes to the body of literature in four ways. First, the current research supports previous findings and claims regarding orthographic knowledge and native language speech processing. Second, the L2 findings provide insight into the relatively sparse—but growing—understanding of the relationship between L1 and L2 orthography and nonnative speech perception. Third, this research offers a unified (albeit preliminary) account of orthographic knowledge and previous findings by way of the Bipartite Model of Orthographic Knowledge and Transfer.



orthography, phoneme perception, second language acquisition, English, Russian, Mandarin