Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 17: 101–120, 2004.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Orthography and reading speed: Data from native readers of
, ANU MATHEW
and PRIYA KURIEN
SRC Institute of Speech and Hearing, Bangalore, India;
Massachusetts Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC), Massachusetts, USA;
Kottayam, Kerala, India
Abstract. Reading has been an extensively studied topic in the Western hemisphere for
several decades, and an enormous amount of empirical data has accumulated on various
aspects of reading alphabetic writing systems like English. Of late, there has been some
interest in the processing of non-alphabetic scripts. However, there is hardly any empirical
research base on several of these writing systems. Two experiments are reported on factors
inﬂuencing rapid reading of words in Kannada, a Dravidian language spoken in southern India.
The results indicate that word frequency and word type (concrete vs. abstract) do not affect
Kannada word reading latencies (Experiment 1), whereas syllable length, orthographic com-
plexity, and phoneme/grapheme sequence irregularity do affect reading latencies (Experiment
2). The results are discussed in terms of the need for caution in generalizing from studies based
on alphabetic scripts, and point to the relevance of considering orthography-speciﬁc variables
in understanding reading time, even in adult, proﬁcient readers.
Key words: Frequency, Imageability, Kannada, Orthography, Reading speed
Much of the extensive empirical research on reading has been carried out in
users of alphabetic scripts like English. Of late, questions have been raised
regarding the applicability of ﬁndings from alphabetic writing systems to
readers of writing systems that are non-alphabetic in nature. At the same
time, apart from some work on morpho-syllabic scripts, little is known about
the nature and processing of other non-alphabetic writing systems. Yet if we
are to understand reading processes fully it is crucial to broaden the scope
of research to include syllabic and semi-syllabic (or alphasyllabic) scripts,
particularly, the widely used Indic scripts. The present study examines factors
inﬂuencing rapid reading of words in Kannada, a Dravidian language used in
southern India, characterized by an alphasyllabic script.
All of the scripts of the two major groups of languages in India, the Indo-
Aryan and the Dravidian, share a common underlying system, which is said
to have originated from the Brahmi script. In this system the syllable and not
the phoneme (except in the case of independent vowels, described below)