Linking the shapes of alphabet letters to their sounds: the case of Hebrew
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- Treiman, R., Levin, I. & Kessler, B. Read Writ (2012) 25: 569. doi:10.1007/s11145-010-9286-3
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Learning the sounds of letters is an important part of learning a writing system. Most previous studies of this process have examined English, focusing on variations in the phonetic iconicity of letter names as a reason why some letter sounds (such as that of b, where the sound is at the beginning of the letter’s name) are easier to learn than others (such as that of w, where the sound is not in the name). The present study examined Hebrew, where variations in the phonetic iconicity of letter names are minimal. In a study of 391 Israeli children with a mean age of 5 years, 10 months, we used multilevel models to examine the factors that are associated with knowledge of letter sounds. One set of factors involved letter names: Children sometimes attributed to a letter a consonant–vowel sound consisting of the first phonemes of the letter’s name. A second set of factors involved contrast: Children had difficulty when there was relatively little contrast in shape between one letter and others. Frequency was also important, encompassing both child-specific effects, such as a benefit for the first letter of a child’s forename, and effects that held true across children, such as a benefit for the first letters of the alphabet. These factors reflect general properties of human learning.