Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14: 297–332, 2001.
© 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Phonology constrains the internal orthographic representation
LEONARD KATZ & STEPHEN J. FROST
Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, USA and University of Connecticut, Storrs, USA
Abstract. Four experiments explored the composition and stability of internal orthographic
representations of printed words. In three experiments, subjects were presented on successive
occasions with words that were consistently spelled correctly or were consistently misspelled.
On the second presentation, subjects were more likely to judge both kinds of words as correctly
spelled than on the ﬁrst presentation, suggesting that their preexperimental orthographic repre-
sentations had been altered to match what they had seen on the ﬁrst presentation. However,
only misspellings that were consistent with the correct phonology were accepted; spellings
that altered the phonology were rarely accepted, suggesting that some parts of the ortho-
graphic representation are less stable than others. Also, subjects’ reliance on orthographic
vs. phonological memory when judging a word’s spelling was affected by the kinds of other
misspellings in the list. Lists that contained some phonologically implausible spellings for
real words (e.g., *assostance) induced subjects to rely more on phonological plausibility
when judging the correctness of other words in the list and less on orthographic memory. An
individual grapheme in an internal orthographic representation was unstable when there were
many phonologically acceptable alternatives for it. The results are contrary to the view that
the strength of an internal representation is uniform across all its graphemes and is a function
only of visual experience with the printed form. Results were interpreted in the context of a
theory that considers spelling knowledge to be a by-product of the reading process, a process
that involves phonological analysis.
Keywords: Orthography, Spelling, Reading, Word recognition
Most people who are literate in English have less than perfect spelling. The
problem arises because the English writing system does not represent the
pronunciation of a word in a simple and consistent manner and, indeed, was
not meant to do so. Instead, the writing system – the orthography – has a
major focus on the morphological information carried in the word. Occa-
sions when the orthography reﬂects the consistency of meaning rather than
the phonology can be seen as an accommodation to the complex phonology
that exists in English (Katz & Feldman 1996; Katz & Frost 1992; Mattingly
1992). The pronunciation of a root morpheme or inﬂection often changes as
a function of the syntactic or phonotactic context (as in magic, magician).
Languages tend to get the orthography they deserve, which is to say that