Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Dr. L.R. Brooks


Adults experience a surprising degree of difficulty when they attempt to sound out words written with novel alphabetic characters. This difficulty is experienced despite extensive prior practice on identifying those characters individually, despite many years of prior experience with the English alphabetic system (Brooks and Anderson, 1976). Such difficulties seem in some ways akin to the "blending difficulties" experienced by beginning readers. The experiments in this thesis were designed to test whether this adult blending difficulty might in part be due to a disruption of the adults' ability to segment letters into groups that are relevant for further processing.

Experiment I demonstrated that response time to identify words written with novel characters could be reduced by visually emphasizing the vowels, thereby making orthographically relevant letter groups more salient. Moreover, practice on identifying vowel enhanced words resulted in improved performance on a new list of unenhanced words. Experiment II showed that performance on vowel enhanced words was also improved for both regularly and irregularly spelled words even when they are written with familiar Roman characters. These data are discussed in terms of several possible components of word identification.

The fact that the effect was found for both artificial and Roman letters and for both regularly and irregularly spelled words suggests that vowel enhancement might aid word identification under a wide variety of conditions. Such generality offers some grounds for the speculation that vowel enhancement could improve word identification skills and perhaps aid in establishing appropriate visual inspection habits in children.

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