Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 12: 143–147, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Introduction to special issue on morphology and the acquisition
of alphabetic writing systems
VIRGINIA A. MANN
Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of California, Irvine, California, USA
The articles in this special issue share a concern with the role of morpho-
logical skills in the learning of alphabetic orthographies. They offer a cross-
section of different perspectives, techniques and populations. Some of the
studies concern morphological skills in the development of reading ability,
others concern morphological skills and the acquisition of spelling. Some
employ experimental tasks that measure explicit knowledge, others are more
tacit, some are limited to derivational morphology, others consider inﬂec-
tional morphology as well. The majority of the papers concern readers of
English orthography, but studies of Dutch and French are also included.
Why should morphemes have anything to do with alphabetic writing
systems, in particular? Such systems are, by deﬁnition, phoneme-based
transcriptions of language; it is logographies, not alphabets, that transcribe
morphemes. A general reason for linking morphemes and the alphabet, noted
by Byrne (1996), concerns the fact that orthographic systems can represent
several levels of language simultaneously. While it is true that alphabets
contain unique graphemes for the phonemes of a language they also contain
unique graphemes and grapheme sequences for morphemes (as well as for
syllables and words units). Consistent with Bryant’s point about the presence
of grapheme-to-morpheme consistency, adult readers appear sensitive to the
morphological structure of printed words under a variety of conditions in a
variety of alphabetic writing systems both ‘deep’ like English and ‘shallow’
like Serbo-Croatian (for references and more details, see Feldman 1995).
One of the papers in this issue turns to the ‘shallow’ Dutch orthography to
show that, even in a writing system where the relation between phonemes
and letters is highly regular, skilled readers are nonetheless sensitive to the
fact that certain letter sequences commonly represent preﬁxes.
A second, more speciﬁc reason, why morpheme-sized units would be
important to readers of an alphabet arises from a consideration of ‘deep’
alphabets such as English. In contrast to ‘shallow’ alphabets, deep alpha-
bets transcribe spoken words at a lexical level of representation rather that