[PS-2.14] Is reading in Russian regular?

Ulicheva, A. & Weekes, B.

The University of Hong Kong, Laboratory for Communication Science

Russian is a language that is characterized by regular orthography to phonology (feedforward) and irregular phonology to orthography (feedback) correspondences. Regularity and consistency can be regarded as two separate dimensions that are difficult to tease apart in English. Feedback inconsistent words in English often contain consistent but unique rimes. On the other hand, in Russian regular words can be either consistent or inconsistent depending on the constituent letters. This provides a powerful tool for experimental manipulation. The aim of this study was to explore the reading of Russian speaking children recently exposed to literacy instruction by testing the effects of word consistency and regularity on learning. Good and poor readers (36 participants in each group) were tested on word reading and spelling tasks. Results from the spelling task show that performance with feedforward and feedback consistent words was at ceiling for both groups. Spelling of feedforward inconsistent words with high feedback regularity was also impaired for all participants. This suggests that the correspondences needed to spell feedforward consistent items are not automatically acquired in the first year of reading instruction. It is hypothesized that learning to read takes time for Russian speaking children because of feedback irregularity in the print. Printed words with inconsistent feedback correspondences are the most difficult to acquire as indicated by impairment in the poor reading group. Interestingly, proficient readers show two distinct patterns of performance with these items - spelling can be competent or relatively impaired i.e. reading without spelling. Characteristics of the dissociated subgroups including their phonological skills and nonword reading abilities show differences in performance providing insight into the underlying reasons for differential patterns of performance. In conclusion, it is argued that feedforward and feedback consistency of words is an important constraint on the acquisition of reading and spelling skills in Russian.