Research Topic

Word Morphology and Written Language Acquisition: Insights from Typical and Atypical Development in Different Orthographies

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Morphemes are the smallest units of language that bear meaning and are combined to form more complex words. Several studies, carried out in different languages, show a role for morphology in language acquisition and, in particular, in reading and spelling complex words and pseudowords. For example, the ...

Morphemes are the smallest units of language that bear meaning and are combined to form more complex words. Several studies, carried out in different languages, show a role for morphology in language acquisition and, in particular, in reading and spelling complex words and pseudowords. For example, the relation between orthography and morphology seems to be grasped by some children even before formal teaching. Also, it appears that the role of morphology can be particularly important for children struggling with complex word processing during literacy acquisition. Nevertheless, the results emerging from this developmental literature are not completely consistent across studies and languages.

While some investigations provide evidence for the view of morphemes as a form of representation, others suggest that morphology can be considered a by-product of literacy acquisition. The role of word form and morphology seems relatively clear. During literacy acquisition, children learn to detect frequent and stable orthographic chunks corresponding to morphemes. This mechanism offers all children a way of optimizing fluency and accuracy in decoding new and unfamiliar words. However, there are inconsistent results across languages on the role of semantics in learning to detect morphemes in complex words.

A deeper understanding of the relationship between semantic and morphemic processing in the early phases of literacy acquisition and, indeed, throughout the learning processes will offer useful insights for modeling the decoding and comprehension of words in isolation and in text, not only in children but also in skilled adult readers. Moreover, such increased understanding is likely to result in more effective tools for teachers and speech therapists to use for improving children’s decoding and comprehension of written language.

Thus, the aim of the present Research Topic is to facilitate exchange between researchers approaching this issue from different perspectives. To do so, we welcome contributions from areas such as: (1) the development of children’s ability to map orthography onto the morphemes learnt during language acquisition; (2) the advantage that known embedded morpheme recognition within orthographic sequences can offer to children during reading and spelling acquisition; and (3) the role the meaning of derived or compound words that children come across has for word and text comprehension. Our goal is to encourage contributions that encompass studies of both typical and atypical development in a wide range of languages.


Keywords: word morphology, reading acquisition, spelling acquisition, dyslexia, dysgraphia


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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