Heyer, Vera (2020):
"Below the Surface: The Application of Implicit Morpho-Graphic Regularities to Novel Word Spelling." Morphology 31.3: 243-260.
Journal Article

Previous corpus studies have shown that the English spelling system is ‘morpho-graphic’ (Berg and Aronoff 2017) in that affixes are spelt in a consistent way (e.g., ‹ous› in famous) that distinguishes them from homophonous word endings without grammatical function (e.g., ‹us› in bonus). The present paper investigates if English spellers apply these regularities to the spelling of novel words implicitly and whether the application of those regularities is modulated by experience with the English writing system. Participants with varying degrees of expertise in the English writing system were asked to spell novel words ending in /əs/, which were presented orally in either an adjective context (i.e., biasing towards the affix spelling ‹ous›) or a noun context (i.e., biasing towards an alternative spelling such as ‹us›). The results showed that the adjective context elicited significantly more ‹ous› spellings than the noun context, indicating that participants applied morpho-graphic spelling regularities to novel words to mark the appropriate lexical category. Additionally, there was a modulation by spelling ability: The higher participants’ expertise in the English spelling system was, the more novel words they spelt according to morpho-graphic spelling regularities. In conclusion, English spellers are aware of the morpho-graphic spelling regularities without explicit instruction and apply these to novel words. They gradually induce the regularities from the input, which results in more robust rule application with increased experience and expertise in the English writing system.