Phonological decoding and morpho-orthographic decomposition: Complementary routes during learning to read

Scientific Studies of Reading (in press)

Abstract

Accepted on 17/01/2024.

We examined the reliance on phonological decoding and morpho-orthographic decomposition strategies in developing and skilled readers of French. A lexical decision experiment was conducted where the critical stimuli were four types of nonword all derived from the same base-word, such as the French word visage (face) in the following examples: 1) pseudo-homophones (PsH; e.g., visaje); 2) orthographic controls for PsH nonwords (e.g., visape); 3) pseudo-morphemic nonwords (PsM; e.g., visageable); and 4) orthographic controls for PsM nonwords (e.g., visagealle, where alle is not a suffix in French). Responses to PsH and PsM nonwords and their controls were studied in 3 groups of school children (grades 1, 2, and 5) and one group of skilled adult readers. PsH interference effects (i.e., more errors to PsH nonwords than to the corresponding controls) decreased during reading acquisition to become non-significant in skilled readers. Interestingly, the opposite pattern was seen in PsM interference effects (measured also in terms of accuracy), which were already significant in Grade 1 and increased during reading development to reach their maximum in skilled readers. These results point toward opposing learning trajectories in the use of phonological and morphological information when learning to silently read for meaning.