Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 17: 59–78, 2004.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Processing phonological information in a semi-syllabic script:
Developmental data from Telugu
Department of Linguistics, Osmania University, India
Abstract. Three experiments were undertaken to examine second and ﬁfth grade Telugu-
speaking children’s awareness of phonological and orthographic properties of familiar Telugu
words. Experiment 1 focused on the strategies the children used in completing word frag-
ments. Experiment 2 examined the children’s ability to judge and generate rhyming words,
and Experiment 3 examined the children’s strategies in comprehending meanings of ortho-
graphically similar rhyming vs. non-rhyming word pairs in a sentence completion task. The
results demonstrated that speciﬁc features of semi-syllabic alphabets such as Telugu interact
with phonological knowledge during the processing of meaningful words such that children
with more formal instruction in reading are able to access phonological information better
than younger children with less well developed orthographic knowledge. Some pedagogic
implications of the results are discussed.
Key words: Orthographic knowledge, Phonological awareness, Syllabic alphabet, Telugu
The earliest and the most common pedagogic activity school children
encounter is learning to represent speech sounds and segments graphically.
The proponents of the linguistic approach to beginning reading have argued
that this involves learning a code that maps print to speech (e.g., Perfetti,
1985, 1994). During their primary school years, children acquire not only the
writing system associated with the language in which they receive instruction,
but also a high degree of attention-free and automatic use of that code, in part
because their scholastic achievement is chieﬂy measured in terms of how well
they can read and write.
The rate of acquisition and mastery of the writing system in a given
language may in turn depend upon the size of the speech unit represented
in the script. Writing systems differ in the size of the unit represented. Thus,
in the morphosyllabic writing system of classical Chinese, morphemes are
the units of reference, whereas in alphabetic writing systems (e.g. English),
phonemes are the unit of reference and in syllabic scripts such as the
Japanese kana script, the syllable is the unit. Hebrew, Persian, and many
Indic scripts, including Telugu, make use of a modiﬁed alphabetic system in