Reading and Writing

, Volume 17, Issue 1–2, pp 7–26 | Cite as

Metalinguistic awareness and semi-syllabic scripts: Children's spelling errors in Malay

  • Susan J. Rickard LiowEmail author
  • Lay Choo Lee


The Malay language has a transparentmorphological system and, unlike English, it iswritten in a very shallow alphabetic-syllabicscript. We predicted that beginner spellers(six- to eight-year-olds) of this Rumi script wouldencode words at the level of the syllable andmorpheme, rather than the phoneme. Using theresults of a 75-item spelling test, we groupedchildren (N = 97) into three stages ofspelling proficiency, and analyzed their errorson subsets of stem words (n = 15 CV-CVClexemes) and affixed words (n = 10prefix + stem + suffix). The data show adevelopmental progression in the use ofmeta-linguistic awareness that does not includeuntutored phoneme–grapheme correspondences:Stage 1 children were more likely to preservestem syllables (CVs) and affixes than singlephonemes; Stage 2 spellers were able to combineCV units; and Stage 3 children, the mostproficient group, spelled almost all prefixesand affixes correctly even when the target wasa low familiarity word. Even though Rumi ismore predictable than English at thephoneme–grapheme level, Malay children's earlyspellings are based on their knowledge ofsyllables and morphemes, large-size units thatare reinforced in the classroom.

Alphabetic-syllabic scripts Malay Spelling errors Spelling skill development 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National University of SingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.National University of SingaporeSingapore

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