Reading and Writing

, Volume 28, Issue 8, pp 1187–1202 | Cite as

Lexical classification and spelling: Do people use atypical spellings for atypical pseudowords?

  • Nenagh Kemp
  • Rebecca Treiman
  • Hollie Blackley
  • Imogen Svoboda
  • Brett Kessler


Many English phonemes have more than one possible spelling. People’s choices among the options may be influenced by sublexical patterns, such as the identity of neighboring sounds within the word. However, little research has explored the possible role of lexical conditioning. Three experiments examined the potential effects of one such factor: whether an item is typical of English or atypical. In Experiment 1, we asked whether presenting pseudowords as made-up words or the names of monsters would cause participants to classify them as atypical and spell phonemes within these pseudowords using less common patterns. This was not found to be the case in children (aged 7–12 years) or adults. In Experiment 2, children aged 10–12 and adults spelled pseudowords that contained phonologically frequent or infrequent sequences and, in Experiment 3, adults chose between two possible spellings of each of these pseudowords. Adults, but not children, used more common spellings in pseudowords that contained frequent sequences and that thus seemed more typical of English. They used fewer common spellings in pseudowords that contained infrequent sequences and therefore seemed atypical. These results suggest that properties of pseudowords themselves can affect lexical classification and hence spelling.


Spelling Orthography Lexical classification Pseudowords Children Adults 



We thank Brad Mertens for help with the third experiment, and we are grateful to all of the child and adult participants for participating in our tasks.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nenagh Kemp
    • 1
  • Rebecca Treiman
    • 2
  • Hollie Blackley
    • 1
  • Imogen Svoboda
    • 1
  • Brett Kessler
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Medicine (Psychology)University of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyWashington University in St LouisSt LouisUSA

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