Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 11: 381–403, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The effects of ﬁrst language orthographic features on word
recognition processing in English as a second language
Joetsu University of Education, Niigata, Japan
Abstract. This study investigated the possible effects of ﬁrst language (L1) orthographic
characteristics on word recognition in English as a second language (ESL). Case alternation
was used to examine the impact of visually distorted words of different types on ﬂuent ESL
readers’ word recognition in naming. Visual distortion of word shape (i.e., cAsE aLtErNa-
TiOn) was utilized because, although visually distorted words have lost word-shape cues, they
preserve the cue value of words (i.e., spelling patterns). It, therefore, was hypothesized that
if one is sensitive to alphabetic orthography, or if one’s inner mechanism of processing an
alphabetic word is efﬁcient, then the visual disruption of word-shape cues should not affect
one’s sensitivity to sequences of letters in words. In other words, this study focused on the
magnitude of the effect of case alternation in word recognition as an index of the sensitivity
to alphabetic words. Results showed that the magnitude of the case alternation effect in a
naming task was signiﬁcantly larger for the ESL participants whose L1 is not alphabetic
(i.e., Chinese and Japanese) than the ESL participants whose L1 is alphabetic (i.e., Iranians –
Persian as L1). This result seems to indicate that the Persian speakers, due to the facilitating
inﬂuence of their L1 orthography, were less inﬂuenced by case alternation than the Chinese
and Japanese speakers, whose L1 orthographies are not alphabetic. This ﬁnding suggests that
the ﬁrst language orthographic features affect the orthographic coding mechanisms (i.e., word
recognition mechanisms) in a second language.
Keywords: Case alternation, Language transfer, Orthographic processing, Second language,
Reading is a complex, cognitive activity. When a reader ﬁxates on a word,
the word is transformed into its corresponding mental representation, and
all the relevant information about the word (e.g., semantic and syntactic
information) is retrieved from either long-term memory or the lexicon. The
retrieved information is then used to perceive the following word(s) in text.
The cognitive processing from the point of ﬁxation to lexical access is called
bottom-up or lower-order processing, and is considered to be one of the foun-
dational components of reading (e.g., Gough 1984; Stanovich 1991). This
basic processing is widely acknowledged to be as important as top-down