Contractions constitute the most notable orthographic difference between English braille and print. Mandatory contractions pose a number of practical and theoretical questions which relate specifically to braille reading and spelling. But they also have wider implications. They are potentially an extremely useful tool for probing the relation between reading, spelling and speech output processes during development and acquisition. But we know far too little about the effects of contractions as yet. The present chapter explores some of these issues.
The first section briefly describes some of the most common contractions that are learned relatively early, and gives some examples also of infrequently used contracted forms. The scanning latencies for common single character contractions which represent whole words when people are reading texts normally are reported next. Single character contractions that represent whole words when they stand alone are compared with the same contractions when they are used mandatorily to represent the relevant letter sequences within words in normal text reading. The fact that the same contractions take less time to process as single words than as constituents of other words has implications for the early stages of braille reading and spelling, and for the question of sub-lexical decomposition.
Spelling differences between contracted and fully spelt out words are explored in oral spelling and by a matching task with young braille readers who habitually read and write contracted braille, but also learn normal English spelling. Intelligent young braillists took much less time over familiar contracted words than over their fully spelt out equivalent, showing that contractions save time as well as space. But that advantage disappears for contractions in low frequency words. Translating between contracted and fully spelt out braille was no means an automatic process, although accuracy was high. Word knowledge as well as knowledge of the two orthographies seems to be involved.
The next issue is the relation between reading and writing braille by means of the 'Perkins' machine. Beginning readers often find writing braille by means of the 'Perkins' braille machine easier than reading. The