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Progress in Reading Instruction Requires a Better Understanding of the English Spelling System

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)407-412
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number6
Early online date2 Nov 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 27 Mar 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 2 Nov 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Dec 2018


It is widely claimed that the English spelling system conforms to the alphabetic principle, according to which letters or letter combinations (graphemes) represent speech sounds (phonemes). But this is not accurate. English spellings have evolved to represent both phonemes and meaning (through morphology and etymology), and in direct contradiction to the alphabetic principle, spellings prioritize the consistent spelling of morphemes over the consistent spellings of phonemes. This is important because the alphabetic principle provides the main theoretical motivation for systematic phonics instruction that explicitly teaches children grapheme–phoneme correspondences in English without reference to morphology and etymology. Furthermore, this theoretical claim has biased the research literature, with many studies considering the efficacy of phonics but few studies assessing the relevance of morphology and etymology to reading instruction. We briefly describe the linguistic organization of the English spelling system and then outline pedagogical and empirical arguments in support of the hypothesis that reading instruction should be designed to teach children the logical and meaningful organization of English spellings.

    Research areas

  • alphabetic principle, phonics, reading, structured word inquiry

    Structured keywords

  • Language
  • Cognitive Science

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