Reading and Writing

, Volume 25, Issue 7, pp 1573–1598 | Cite as

Building literacy in alphabetic, abjad and morphosyllabic systems

  • Liliana TolchinskyEmail author
  • Iris Levin
  • Dorit Aram
  • Catherine McBride-Chang


Preschoolers’ metalinguistic and visual capabilities may be associated with the writing system of their culture. We examined patterns of performance in phonological awareness, naming of letters, morphological awareness, and visual-spatial relations, in 5-year-old native speakers of Spanish (n = 43), Hebrew (n = 40), and Cantonese (n = 63) and the relations of these literacy related skills to concurrent word writing and word reading. The writing systems in these languages represent three major categories, i.e., alphabetic (Spanish), abjad (Hebrew), and morphosyllabic (Chinese). Phonological awareness, letter naming, and perception of visual-spatial relations differed across groups, whereas morphological awareness showed a similar level of attainment in all three languages. Stepwise regression analyses explaining writing and reading for each language separately revealed both commonalities and differences between languages. Phonological awareness assessed by initial syllable deletion contributed to writing and to reading in Cantonese and in Spanish. Phonological awareness assessed by final phoneme isolation explained reading in Hebrew, whereas final and initial phoneme isolation explained writing in Hebrew. Letter naming predicted both writing and reading in Spanish and in Hebrew, while perception of visual-spatial relations did so in Cantonese. At age 5, children’s metalinguistic knowledge and visual discrimination abilities are already attuned to the particular features of the writing system to which they are exposed.


Early literacy Cross linguistic predictors Alphabetic Abjad Morphosyllabic systems 



We would like to thank the Department of Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong, as well as Hong Kong Government GRF grant 448608 for partially supporting the present study. Thanks are extended to Rotem Shapira and Sigal Shatil-Carmon from Tel Aviv University, and to Catalina Barragán from The University of Almeria. The paper was written while Liliana Tolchinsky enjoyed a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (EDU2009-10321).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liliana Tolchinsky
    • 1
    Email author
  • Iris Levin
    • 2
  • Dorit Aram
    • 2
  • Catherine McBride-Chang
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Constantiner School of EducationTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyChinese University of Hong KongMa Liu Shui, Sha Tin, New TerritoriesHong Kong

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