Biliteracy Spelling Acquisition in Akshara and English

  • Pooja Nakamura
  • R. Malatesha JoshiEmail author
  • Xuejun Ryan Ji
Part of the Literacy Studies book series (LITS, volume 17)


Spelling is one of the important literacy skills to be mastered. Most studies on the influence of first language orthography on spelling in a second language have been conducted primarily from one alphabetic language to another alphabetic language (e.g., English and Spanish) or from an alphabetic to a morphosyllabic language (e.g., English and Chinese). However, very few studies have been conducted on cross-linguistic influences from an akshara orthography – a unique orthography different from alphabetic, syllabic, alpha-syllabic, and morphosyllabic scripts – to an alphabetic language. The present study explored the influence of such an akshara orthography in spelling English words by administering phonological awareness, decoding, oral vocabulary knowledge, and spelling tasks to students in Grades 1–5 in low-income communities in South India. Results of quantile regression analyses showed that the orthography of the first language did influence spelling in English words. However, the contribution was different depending on the children’s proficiency in English. Among students with higher proficiency in oral English, the influence of first language was less strong. Theoretical and educational implications are discussed.


Akshara Biliteracy Kannada Low-income communities Telugu Spelling 



This research was conducted under the All Children Reading Grand Challenge initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development, World Vision, and Australian Aid.


  1. Ball, E. W., & Blachman, B. (1991). Does phoneme awareness training in kindergarten make a difference in early word recognition and developmental spelling? Reading Research Quarterly, 26, 49–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Daniels, P. T., & Share, D. L. (2017). Writing system variation and its consequences for reading and dyslexia. Scientific Studies of Reading, 22, 101–116. Scholar
  3. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1981). Manual for the peabody picture vocabulary test-revised. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  4. Ehri, L. C. (1997). Learning to read and learning to spell are one and the same, almost. In C. A. Perfetti, L. Rieben, & M. Fayol (Eds.), Learning to spell: Research, theory, and practice across languages (pp. 237–269). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  5. Ehri, L. C. (2000). Learning to read and learning to spell: Two sides of a coin. Topics in Language Disorders, 20, 19–36. Scholar
  6. Ehri, L. C. (2014). Orthographic mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling memory, and vocabulary learning. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18, 5–21. Scholar
  7. Figueredo, L. (2006). Using the known to chart the unknown: A review of first-language influence on the development of English-as-a-second-language spelling skill. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 19, 873–905.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gentry, J. R. (1982). An analysis of developmental spelling in GNYS AT WRK. The Reading Teacher, 36, 192–200.Google Scholar
  9. Geva, E., Wade-Wooley, L., & Shany, M. (1993). The concurrent development of spelling and decoding in two different orthographies. Journal of Literacy Research, 25, 383–406. Scholar
  10. Henderson, E. H., & Templeton, S. (1986). A developmental perspective of formal spelling instruction through alphabet, pattern, and meaning. Elementary School Journal, 86, 304–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ho, C. S.-H., Yau, P. W.-Y., & Au, A. (2003). Development of orthographic knowledge and its relationship with reading and spelling among Chinese kindergarten and primary school children. In C. McBride-Chang & H.-C. Chen (Eds.), Reading development in Chinese children (pp. 51–71). London, UK: Praeger.Google Scholar
  12. Jongejan, W., Verhoeven, L., & Siegel, L. S. (2007). Predictors of reading and spelling abilities in first- and second-language learners. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 835–851. Scholar
  13. Joshi, R. M., Hoien, T., Xiwu-Feng, R., Chengappa, R., & Boulware-Gooden, R. (2006). Learning to spell by ear and by eye: A cross-linguistic comparison. In R. M. Joshi & P. G. Aaron (Eds.), Handbook of orthography and literacy (pp. 569–577). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  14. Kandhadai, P., & Sproat, R. (2010). Impact of spatial ordering of graphemes in alphasyllabic scripts on phonemic awareness in Indic languages. Writing Systems Research, 2, 105–116. Scholar
  15. Karanth, P. (2006). The kagunita of Kannada–learning to read and write an Indian alphasyllabary. In R. M. Joshi & P. G. Aaron (Eds.), Handbook of orthography and literacy (pp. 389–404). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  16. Koda, K. (2008). Impacts of prior literacy experience on second language learning to read. In K. Koda & A. M. Zehler (Eds.), Learning to read across languages: Cross-linguistic relationships in first- and second language literacy development (pp. 68–96). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Koda, K., & Reddy, P. (2008). Cross-linguistic transfer in second language reading. Language Teaching, 41, 497–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Li, T., McBride-Chang, C., Wong, A., & Shu, H. (2012). Longitudinal predictors of spelling and reading comprehension in Chinese as an L1 and English as an L2 in Hong Kong Chinese children. Journal of Educational Psychology., 104, 286–301. Scholar
  19. Nag, S. (2007). Early reading in Kannada: The pace of acquisition of orthographic knowledge and phonemic awareness. Journal of Research in Reading, 30, 7–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Nag, S., & Perfetti, C. A. (2014). Reading and writing: Insights from the alphasyllabaries of South and Southeast Asia. Writing Systems Research, 6, 1–9. Scholar
  21. Nag, S., & Snowling, M. J. (2012). Reading in an Alphasyllabary: Implications for a language universal theory of learning to read. Scientific Studies of Reading, 16, 404–423. Scholar
  22. Nag, S., Treiman, R., & Snowling, M. J. (2010). Learning to spell in an alphasyllabary: The case of Kannada. Writing Systems Research, 2, 41–52. Scholar
  23. Nakamura, P. R., Joshi, R. M., & Ji, X. (2018). Investigating the asymmetrical roles of syllabic and phonemic awareness in akshara processing. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 51, 499–506. Scholar
  24. Perfetti, C. (2003). The universal grammar of reading. Scientific Studies of Reading, 7, 3–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Perfetti, C., & Hart, L. (2002). The lexical quality hypothesis. In L. Verhoeven, C. Elbro, & P. Reitsman (Eds.), Precursors of functional literacy (pp. 189–213). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Petscher, Y., & Logan, J. A. (2014). Quantile regression in the study of developmental sciences. Child Development, 85, 861–881.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Read, C. (1975). Children’s categorization of speech sounds in English (NCTE research report No. 17). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.Google Scholar
  28. Reddy, P., & Koda, K. (2013). Orthographic constraints on phonological awareness in biliteracy development. Writing Systems Research, 5, 110–130. Scholar
  29. Share, D. L., & Daniels, P. T. (2015). Aksharas, alphasyllabaries, abugidas, alphabets, and orthographic depth: Reflections on Rimzhim, Katz, and Fowler (2014). Writing Systems Research, 8, 17–31. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Shu, H., Anderson, R. C., & Wu, N. (2000). Phonetic awareness: Knowledge of orthography–phonology relationships in the character acquisition of Chinese children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 56–62. Scholar
  31. Sparks, R. L., Patton, J., Ganschow, L., Humbach, N., & Javorsky, J. (2008). Early first-language reading and spelling skills predict later second-language reading and spelling skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 162–174. Scholar
  32. Treiman, R. (1993). Beginning to spell: A study of first-grade children. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Treiman, R. (2004). Spelling and dialect: Comparison between speakers of African American Vernacular English and white speakers. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 11, 338–342. Scholar
  34. Treiman, R., & Cassar, M. (1996). Effects of morphology on children’s spelling of final consonant clusters. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 63, 141–170. Scholar
  35. Verhoeven, L. (2000). Components in early second language reading and spelling. Scientific Studies of Reading, 4, 313–330. Scholar
  36. Wang, M., & Geva, E. (2003). Spelling performance of Chinese children using English as a second language: Lexical and visual-orthographic processes. Applied PsychoLinguistics, 24, 1–25. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pooja Nakamura
    • 1
  • R. Malatesha Joshi
    • 2
    Email author
  • Xuejun Ryan Ji
    • 3
  1. 1.American Institute for ResearchWashington, DCUSA
  2. 2.Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture, College of Education and Human DevelopmentTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  3. 3.Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education, Faculty of EducationThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations