Linking the shapes of alphabet letters to their sounds: the case of Hebrew
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.
KeywordsAlphabet Hebrew Letter names Letter sounds
This research was supported by NICHD Grant HD051610. We thank Bracha Nir-Sagiv for help with the child word frequency counts.
- Bates, D. (2009). Computational methods for mixed models. Retrieved from http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/lme4/vignettes/Theory.pdf.
- Bolozky, S. (1999). On the special status of the vowels a and e in Israeli Hebrew. Hebrew Studies, 40, 233–250.Google Scholar
- Bouchière, B., Ponce, C., & Foulin, J.-N. (2010). Développement de la connaissance des lettres capitales. Étude transversale chez les enfants français de trois à six ans [The development of uppercase letter knowledge. A cross-sectional study of French children aged three to six]. Psychologie Française, 55, 65–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Ecalle, J. (2004). Les connaissances des lettres et l’écriture du prénom chez l’enfant français avant l’enseignement formel de la lecture-écriture [Knowledge of letters and writing of the first name in French children who have not yet received formal instruction in reading and writing]. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 45, 111–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Levin, I., & Aram, D. (2004). Children’s names contribute to early literacy: A linguistic and a social perspective. In D. Ravid & H. Bat-Zeev Shyldkrot (Eds.), Perspectives on language and language development (pp. 219–239). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar
- McBride-Chang, C. (1999). The ABC’s of the ABC’s: The development of letter-name and letter-sound knowledge. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 45, 285–308.Google Scholar
- Ravid, D. (2006). Hebrew orthography and literacy. In R. M. Joshi & P. G. Aaron (Eds.), Handbook of orthography and literacy (pp. 339–364). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Snow, C. E., Burns, M. S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
- Treiman, R., & Kessler, B. (2003). The role of letter names in the acquisition of literacy. In R. Kail (Ed.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 31, pp. 105–135). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Treiman, R., & Kessler, B. (in press). Similarities among the shapes of writing and their effects on learning. Written Language and Literacy.Google Scholar
- Treiman, R., Tincoff, R., Rodriguez, K., Mouzaki, A., & Francis, D. J. (1998). The foundations of literacy: Learning the sounds of letters. Child Development, 69, 1524–1540.Google Scholar
- Turnbull, K. L. P., Bowles, R. P., Skibbe, L. E., Justice, L. M., & Wiggins, A. K. (in press). Theoretical explanations for preschoolers’ lowercase alphabet knowledge. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Google Scholar