The Timing Tells the Tale: Multiple Morphological Processes in Children’s and Adults’ Spelling

Helen L. Breadmore, Emily Côté, S. Hélène Deacon

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Purpose: Despite abundant evidence that morphemes are important in reading and spelling, little is known about the nature of processing in spelling. This study identifies multiple morphological processes over the time course of spelling, revealing that these processes are influenced by development. Method: Twenty adults and 46 children (8;0–12;1 years) completed an auditory lexical decision task followed by a spelling task, to explore the effects of morphological structure and cross-modal morphological priming by analyzing handwriting latencies before and during spelling production. Results: Adults and children both demonstrated morphological processing during lexical access–they were faster to begin to write morphologically complex words (e.g., artist) compared to matched monomorphemic controls (e.g., article). Adults (but not children) also demonstrated cross-modal morphological priming. Further, adults (but not children) demonstrated the effects of morphological processing during spelling production. Inter-letter latencies were shorter between the last two letters of a root morpheme than the same letters in monomorphemic control words (e.g., ar[]tist compared to ar[]ticle). Conclusion: Together, these findings reflect multiple facilitative effects of morphological processing during spelling production–during lexical access and spelling production. This highlights the need for greater integration of morphological processes into theories of skilled spelling and spelling development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-427
Number of pages20
JournalScientific Studies of Reading
Issue number5
Early online date6 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

© 2023 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The terms on which this article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent


This research was supported by a Coventry University Pump Prime Grant to the first author and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC – reference RGPIN/293300-2013) Grant to the third author. Some of the data presented in this paper was collected in fulfilment of the second author’s Honours thesis. The study was piloted at Coventry Young Researchers in 2018. Authors have no conflict of interest to declare. Publisher Copyright: © 2023 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC


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