Word Recognition Strategies Amongst isiXhosa/English Bilingual Learners: The Interaction of Orthography and Language of Learning and Teaching

By Probert, Tracy; de Vos, Mark | Reading & Writing, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Word Recognition Strategies Amongst isiXhosa/English Bilingual Learners: The Interaction of Orthography and Language of Learning and Teaching


Probert, Tracy, de Vos, Mark, Reading & Writing


Word recognition: A complex interplay of orthography, language structure, and cognitive skills

Rapid and effortless word recognition is a major component of fluent reading (Aaron et al. 1999; Invernizzi & Hayes 2010:196). Although reading straddles 'linguistic, neurolinguistic, cognitive, psychological, sociological, developmental and educational domains' (Pretorius & Mokhwesana 2009:55), word recognition, has been studied as a set of related neurological processes. There are distinct neural pathways for recognition of gestalt-like whole words versus decomposing a complex word into its component parts. However, there are at least three issues that impact on these neural processes. Firstly, at a psycholinguistic level, words are defined through the structures of a language; different languages package different phonological and morphosyntactic features in different ways. Secondly, linguistic words are mediated in print through orthographies. Orthographies are, more often than not, a set of linguistic and sociocultural compromises developed in particular social contexts. For instance, although all South African Bantu languages are agglutinative in their linguistic structure, they may have either conjunctive or disjunctive orthographies, reflecting both the linguistic and social decisions that went into their transcription (Louwrens & Poulos 2006). Thirdly, learners have at their disposal a number of cognitive tools which they use to solve the reading puzzles presented to them. These skills are dynamically developed through exposure to print orthography and include phonological and morphological awareness. These three sets of interacting factors conspire to make word recognition different in different languages and for different orthographies.

Word structure in Bantu languages

IsiXhosa, like all Bantu languages, has a relatively simple syllable structure based around a (C)V(V) template (Hua 2002). In addition, there are constraints on complex syllable onsets. Although some words appear to have a complex onset orthographically, these are often single consonants corresponding to single phonemes and not a true phonological cluster (1ab). In contrast, English allows for more complex structures than CV, such as CCV and CCCV words (2ab):

(1) a. CV: Dla.la [l?ala]

'Play'

b. CV: Hla.ba [ ? aba]

'Stab'

(2) a. CCV: try [trai], glue [glu:]

b. CCCV: straw [str ? :], strew [stru:]

The nature of words is language specific (Guthrie 1948; Louwrens & Poulos 2006; Prinsloo 2009). All Bantu languages are agglutinating and consequently a Bantu word includes rich, overt morphology. For example, nouns include noun class prefixes as well as stems whereas verbs include morphological reflexes of subject marking, object marking, tense, aspect, mood, causativity, and negation among others. The result is that Bantu words (particularly nouns and verbs) tend to be much longer than their English equivalents.

Linguistic structure is mediated through orthography. Because linguistic words may differ from orthographic words, learners are faced with language-specific processing challenges when attempting to recognise words in a particular language. These challenges, in turn, presuppose languagespecific reading strategies. For example, Nguni languages are written conjunctively and the Tswana and Sotho language groups tend to be written disjunctively. In (3a), a conjunctive writing system yields only one orthographic word also corresponding to one morphological word. The orthographic word ngiyabathanda (3a) is therefore both a morphological word and an orthographic word. In contrast, in disjunctive orthographies, a linguistic word may correspond to a number of orthographic words (3b):

(3) a. Ngi-ya-ba-thand-a

SM1.1Sg-preS-OM2- lik e- fv

'I like them' (isiZulu)

b. ke a ba rat-a

SM1.1sg pres OM2 like-fv

'I like them' (Northern Sotho - Taljard & Bosch 2006:433). …

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