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How Does Dialect Exposure Affect Learning to Read and Spell? An Artificial Orthography Study

Williams, Glenn P., Panayotov, Nikolay and Kempe, Vera (2020) How Does Dialect Exposure Affect Learning to Read and Spell? An Artificial Orthography Study. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 149 (12). pp. 2344-2375. ISSN 0096-3445

Item Type: Article


Correlational studies have demonstrated detrimental effects of exposure to a mismatch be- tween a nonstandard dialect at home and a mainstream variety at school on children’s literacy skills. However, dialect exposure often is confounded with reduced home literacy, negative teacher expectation, and more limited educational opportunities. To provide proof of con- cept for a possible causal relationship between variety mismatch and literacy skills, we taught adult learners to read and spell an artificial language with or without dialect variants using an artificial orthography. In 3 experiments, we confirmed earlier findings that reading is more error-prone for contrastive words; that is, words for which different variants exist in the input, especially when learners also acquire the joint meanings of these competing variants. Despite this contrastive deficit, no detriment from variety mismatch emerged for reading and spelling of untrained words, a task equivalent to nonword reading tests routinely administered to young schoolchildren. With longer training, we even found a benefit from variety mismatch on read- ing and spelling of untrained words. We suggest that such a dialect benefit in literacy learning can arise when competition between different variants leads learners to favor phonologically mediated decoding. Our findings should help to assuage educators’ concerns about detrimental effects of linguistic diversity.

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More Information

Uncontrolled Keywords: literacy, dialect, artificial language learning
Depositing User: Glenn Williams


Item ID: 11200
Identification Number:
ISSN: 0096-3445
Official URL:

Users with ORCIDS

ORCID for Glenn P. Williams: ORCID iD
ORCID for Vera Kempe: ORCID iD

Catalogue record

Date Deposited: 05 May 2020 18:35
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2021 11:30


Author: Glenn P. Williams ORCID iD
Author: Vera Kempe ORCID iD
Author: Nikolay Panayotov

University Divisions

Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing > School of Psychology


Psychology > Cognitive Behaviour

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