chapter
Psychology of reading
Pages 8

There is an incontrovertible fact about languages that use the alphabetic writing system: letters and letter patterns (e.g. graphemes) largely correspond to speech units (e.g. phonemes). However, in some languages the correspondence between orthography and phonology is not always straightforward. A theoretically relevant distinction among the many alphabetic languages is the degree of consistency of the spelling-sound mappings, i.e. how much the spelling-sound (grapheme-phoneme) correspondences are constant across the whole vocabulary. When an appropriate set of spelling-sound conversion rules is used with languages like Italian, Spanish, or Serbo-Croatian, the derived (or assembled) pronunciation is in most cases correct; that is to say, readers of these languages can reliably assemble the correct pronunciation of a given word even when it is unfamiliar to them (i.e. it has not been encountered before).1 The orthographic systems of these languages are referred to as “shallow” (Frost, Katz, & Bentin, 1987). By contrast, in languages like English or French (“deep” orthographies), the correspondences between graphemes and phonemes can be multiple and less systematic, e.g. the graphemes au, aux, eau, eaux, o, correspond to a single phoneme /o/ in French. In English these correspondences are in some cases irregular (e.g. the vowels in PINT, HAVE) or arbitrary (e.g. the vowel in COLONEL). In fact, the major locus of inconsistency in English is the vowel (see Treiman, Mullenix, Bijeljac-Babic, & Richmond-Welty, 1995; Venetzky, 1970): a single vowel grapheme often maps onto several phonemes, e.g. EA in MEAN, HEAD, STEAK is pronounced as /i/, /e/, /eI/,2 respectively. For instance, the / e/ pronunciation of EA in HEAD is atypical, and is therefore an exception to the most typical EA → /i/ rule. Therefore, it is possible to distinguish between regular words, where using spelling-sound correspondences would yield the correct pronunciation, and exception words, where using the same correspondences would yield a wrong pronunciation (a so-called regularization error; e.g. reading PINT to rhyme with MINT).