Annals of Dyslexia

, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 86–101 | Cite as

Word length and word frequency affect eye movements in dyslexic children reading in a regular (German) orthography

  • Ute Dürrwächter
  • Alexander N. Sokolov
  • Jens Reinhard
  • Gunther Klosinski
  • Susanne Trauzettel-Klosinski


We combined independently the word length and word frequency to examine if the difficulty of reading material affects eye movements in readers of German, which has high orthographic regularity, comparing the outcome with previous findings available in other languages. Sixteen carefully selected German-speaking dyslexic children (mean age, 9.5 years) and 16 age-matched controls read aloud four lists, each comprising ten unrelated words. The lists varied orthogonally in word length and word frequency: high-frequency, short; high-frequency, long; low-frequency, short; low-frequency, long. Eye movements were measured using a scanning laser ophthalmoscope (SLO). In dyslexic children, fixation durations and the number of saccades increased both with word length and word frequency. The percentage of regressions was only increased for low-frequency words. Most of these effects were qualitatively similar in the two groups, but stronger in dyslexic children, pointing to a deficient higher-level word processing, especially phonological deficit. The results indicate that reading eye movements in German children are modulated by the degree of difficulty, and orthographic regularity of the language can determine the nature of modulation. The findings suggest that, similar to Italian but unlike English readers, German children prefer indirect sub-lexical strategy of grapheme-phoneme conversion.


Developmental dyslexia Eye movements Regular orthography Scanning laser ophthalmoscope Word frequency Word length 



We thank Manfred MacKeben, Ph.D., The Smith Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, San Francisco, USA, for helpful comments. The research was supported by the Fortüne Grant No. 783 (Intramural Research Program of the University of Tübingen) and by the Herbert Funke Foundation. During paper preparation, ANS was supported by the Werner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN), University of Tübingen.


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Copyright information

© The International Dyslexia Association 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ute Dürrwächter
    • 1
  • Alexander N. Sokolov
    • 2
  • Jens Reinhard
    • 2
  • Gunther Klosinski
    • 1
  • Susanne Trauzettel-Klosinski
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and PsychotherapyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Low Vision Clinic and Research Laboratory, Centre for OphthalmologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany

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