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Decisions about consonant doubling among non-native speakers of English: graphotactic and phonological influences

Abstract

Graphotactic as well as phonological factors influence native English speakers’ decisions about consonant doubling in the spelling of nonwords, e.g., zimen versus zimmen. This study examined the extent to which such influences apply to non-native speakers of English, who presumably have less knowledge of English graphotactics and phonology and less opportunity to be explicitly instructed, and whether such influences vary as a function of first language (L1) background. Eighty-five university students in Beijing who study English as a second language (ESL) with contrasting L1 backgrounds (46 Chinese and 39 Korean, Mage = 20.51 years, SD = 1.95) completed a nonword spelling task and a standardized English spelling ability test. In the nonword spelling task, participants were asked to spell items in which the initial consonant or cluster was followed by a stressed vowel with medial consonant that would generally double in English. Half of the first syllables in the nonwords had short vowels and half of them had long vowels. Similar to native English speakers, ESL learners were more likely to use medial consonant doubling when the preceding vowel was short, spelled with one letter, and ended with spellings associated with higher rate of doubling in the English system. Phonological influence was stronger in more skilled spellers than in less skilled spellers, whereas the strength of graphotactic influence did not differ across the range of spelling ability. No significant difference of L1 background was found in the use of consonant doubling. Findings highlight the generality of statistical learning underlying spelling across different first language backgrounds and varying English spelling abilities.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The symbol /ə/ is often used just for the unstressed schwa vowel, but it can be used to represent /ʌ/ as well, which is the stressed vowel of “but”. Here we used the /ə/ symbol for that stressed vowel.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 81371497) and the Tsinghua University Initiative Scientific Research Program (Grant No. 2016THZWYY07).

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Correspondence to Li Yin.

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Appendix

Appendix

Experimental items and filler items used by Treiman and Wolter (2018):

Experimental items

figurea

Filler items

figureb

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Yin, L., Joshi, R.M., Li, D. et al. Decisions about consonant doubling among non-native speakers of English: graphotactic and phonological influences. Read Writ (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-020-10017-5

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Keywords

  • Graphotactics
  • Phonology
  • Second language learning
  • Spelling
  • Statistical learning