Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14: 459–485, 2001.
© 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Learning to spell in Hebrew: Phonological and morphological
School of Education and the Department of Communications Disorders, Tel Aviv University,
Abstract. This paper investigates children’s developing knowledge of the Hebrew spelling
system in view of the claim that language-speciﬁc typology affects the rate and the pattern
of development of orthographic spelling. Hebrew is a morphologically synthetic language
with a phonologically “deep” orthography, on the one hand, and a consistent representation
of morphology in the spelling system, on the other. This paper focuses on the difference
between representing content words versus grammatical words, and roots versus morphemic
and attached function letters in written Hebrew. The paper describes two studies. In Study
1, compositions from gradeschool children (grade 1 through 6) were analyzed for types of
spelling errors; in Study 2, children from grades 2–4 were administered a spelling task.
Results indicate that grammatical words are spelled correctly before content words, and that
within content words, the correct spelling of function letters precedes that of root letters.
These differences are attributed to factors of transparency, consistency and frequency, coupled
with gradeschoolers’ growing perception of phonological and morphological patterning in
Keywords: Hebrew, Function letters, Morphology, Phonology, Root letters, Spelling
Abbreviations: C – consonant; Fm – Feminine gender; Fut – Future tense; Inf – Inﬁnitival
marker; Masc – Masculine gender; Pl – Plural number; Sg – Singular number
Introduction: The interface of morphology and spelling
The literature reports three major stages in children’s acquisition of spelling
in alphabetic orthographies: I Pre-phonetic writing, involving logographic
or symbolic writing, with early pre-phonetic attempts; II Phonetic writing,
essentially breaking the grapho-phonemic code which associates graphemes
with phonemes (Goswami 1999; Goswami & Bryant 1990; Levin & Korat
1993; Treiman 1993); and III Alphabetic or “conventional” writing,which
involves incorporating morphological components into the spelling (Ellis
1994; Jones 1991; Treiman et al. 1995). The current study focuses on the role
of morphological knowledge in the shift of spelling development in Hebrew
from stage II to stage III.