Today I will introduce to you the English language. By discussing the writing system, I hope to shed light on how language is dynamic, how oral language changes but how written language is so slow in catching up. At the end of the discussion you should be able to understand the frustration of a dyslexic reader.
Let’s begin by understanding the written language, written words are spoken language represented by visual form and written language can be represented in two main ways:
The sound of the language,
Or a combination of both.
English as an alphabetic language it uses sounds of letters as visual symbols, we call these phonemes. On the other hand, Modern Yi uses syllable size sounds not small units of sounds such as phonemes.
Chinese dialects such as Mandarin are an example where there is very little sound representation in the visual system, these types of languages are called logographic languages. They use meaning as a way of transmitting information. For instance the character for the word book and library
Language is dynamic, we say oral language changes while written language changes at a much slower pace. This is seen particularly in an old language like English. Let’s consider the word ‘book’ which suggest a long vowel sound, in old English ‘book’ was pronounced with a longer vowel perhaps sounding like ‘boook’.
The middle ages came with a big vowel shift, vowels changed their sounds, their sounds became shorter, the oral language changed but the written language stayed the same.
The frustration of a dyslexic reader
I am sure all English teachers would agree with me in saying English has a lot of irregularities. We shall compare a list of pseudo-words (nonsense words) and irregular words to demonstrate this:
Irregular words pseudo-words
You were easily able to manipulate the pseudo-words by activating your phonological decoding route, but if you were to use this same route in reading irregular words the pronunciation comes out wrong altogether. You would actually need your direct access path to complete this task! In contrast newer languages like Finish have a letter sound relationship, they are more consistent. Their letter sound correspondences are nice and predictable. Whereas English is much less regular, it has had vowel sifts because of the introduction of new words form other languages therefore it has become much less transparent resulting in big implications on children having difficulties to read.
It is hard and frustrating for a dyslectic reader when the letter and sound correspondences or the rules are not consistent. Evidence has shown that there is just more to learn from a language like English….
Acknowledgments: University of London and Dyslexia International (Supporting children with learning disabilities)