Morphological Development
: From the Beginner to the Proficient Reader

  • Sara Whylie

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    There is now a vast amount of evidence that morphological knowledge contributes to literacy development. Yet very few studies have examined morphological awareness in children as young as 4-years old, perhaps due to their cognitive immaturity. This is a crucial first step in determining whether morphological awareness in oral language contributes to later literacy development. Prior lack of evidence of morphological awareness in this age group may not be due to its absence but to task demands. Therefore, in chapter 2, a novel dynamic morphological awareness task was developed and found to be a feasible, reliable and valid tool, providing in-depth information about beginner readers’ morphological awareness. This assessment was applied in chapter 3, using a longitudinal paradigm to illustrate how morphological awareness contributed to literacy measures a year later. In this first year of education, morphological awareness in oral language was found to contribute to later reading comprehension, even after accounting for the specific phonological component of the task. However, morphological awareness was not a longitudinal predictor of word reading or spelling. Next, from morphological awareness in oral language, morphological development in the reading processes of older children (7-12 years old) and adults was examined. Due to the multidimensional nature of morphological development, understanding about morphological structure has been shown to be important for reading processes. However, past studies have generally investigated this in single word reading. To examine morphological development during sentence reading, two eye-tracking paradigms were employed to assess morphological processing of children and adults in a cross-sectional design. In chapter 4,evidence for morphological decomposition was examined by manipulating the base and surface frequency of the target word. The results revealed surface frequency effects for both adults and children. Base frequency effects were found for
    children, but not adults. This suggests that children carried out decomposition to access morphologically complex words whilst adults were able to process the whole word without decomposition. Chapter 5 employed the boundary paradigm to investigate the contributions of orthographic and morphological information in priming a morphologically complex word. Whilst children showed an orthographic preview benefit, adults showed a morphological preview benefit. These findings suggest that skilled reading highlights the morphological structure of words. The discrepancy in findings between chapters 4 and 5 may be due to different aspects of morphological processing. While the foveal processes in chapter 4 reflect decomposition, the parafoveal processes in chapter 5 might reflect a dimension of morphological analysis which has not yet developed in children. In conclusion, the current thesis has contributed to understanding about the development of morphology from the oral language of beginner readers to reading in intermediate and skilled readers. Morphological knowledge is multidimensional and contributes differentially across literacy development but remains important throughout.
    Date of AwardApr 2022
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorAnna Cunningham (Supervisor) & Deanne Clouder (Supervisor)

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