chapter  6
29 Pages

The Effect of Writing on Children and Grown-ups Once It Has Been Learned

Psychologists have demonstrated that if native Chinese speakers are asked to say a sentence "bit by bit," they cut the sentence into syllabies. Hebrew speakers, even literate adults, do the same to words but not to sentences: They cut words into syllables but sentences will be broken down into parts of speech or words. Yet, this form of segmenting words into syllables would rarely occur to an educated English speaker, who would probably rather segment words into individual sounds. The point is that the writing system people leam seems to be a determining factor in the way they analyze language. As discussed in the introduction, even infants are able to discriminate speech sounds and to combine them to form words. Long before leaming to write, toddlers have already acquired the basic morphology and syntax of their language Ousczyk, 1997; Mehler & Dupoux, 1990). But this knowledge that infants and toddlers have is implicit. As children interact with the specific characteristics of writing, this implicit knowledge undergoes a process of reorganization: lt be comes increasingly accessible and is shaped by the specific features of the writing systems to which the children are exposed. Thus, people who become literate in different writing systems develop different segmentation abilities.