, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 173-194

Because trucks aren’t bicycles: orthographic complexity as an important variable in reading research

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Abstract

Severe enduring reading- and writing-accuracy difficulties seem a phenomenon largely restricted to nations using complex orthographies, notably Anglophone nations, given English’s highly complex orthography (Geva and Siegel, Read Writ 12:1–30, 2000; Landerl et al., Cognition 63:315–334, 1997; Share, Psychol Bull 134(4):584–615, 2008; Torgesen and Davis, J Exp Child Psychol 63:1–21, 1996; Vellutino, J Learn Disabil 33(3):223, 2000). They seem rare in transparent orthography nations such as Finland, which use highly regular spelling and few spelling rules beyond letter sounds, and most children read and write with impressive accuracy by the end of Year 1 (Holopainen et al., J Learn Disabil 34(5):401–413, 2001; Seymour et al., Br J Psychol 94:143–174, 2003; Spencer and Hanley, Br J Psychol 94(1):1–29, 2003; J Res Read 27(1):1–14, 2004). Orthographic complexity has strong and diverse impacts on reading, writing and academic development (Aro, Learning to read: The effect of orthography, 2004; Galletly and Knight, Aust J Learn Disabil 9(4):4–11, 2004; Aust Educ Res 38(3):329–354, 2011). Despite these strong effects, orthographic complexity is rarely included as a variable in reading research studies considering evidence from both Anglophone (complex orthography) and transparent-orthography readers, or included in discussion of factors influencing results. This paper discusses the differences in reading-accuracy development and difficulties evidenced in studies of Anglophone (complex-orthography) and transparent-orthography readers. It then explores instances of orthographic complexity not being considered in studies where it may have impacted results. This disregarding of orthographic complexity as a variable in research studies appears an oversight, one likely to be contributing to continuing confusion on many aspects of reading and writing development in both healthy- and low-progress readers. Needs for research in these areas are discussed.