Morphological processing in children with phonological difficulties

We know that children who struggle with processing speech sounds (phonology) are also likely to have difficulties in reading and writing. This project investigates how much children use information about the internal structure of words (morphology) to compensate for these difficulties. Morphology refers to the parts of words that carry meaning, for example, the word ‘boys’ has two morphemes – ‘boy’ and ‘s’, which indicates a plural.

Knowledge of a word’s morphemes can help us to read and write unusual words such as ‘health’ (which contains ‘heal’) and ‘sign’ (which shares a morpheme with signal and signature). It is important to know whether children who have phonological difficulties are sensitive to this type of information, and if so, whether this sensitivity helps their progress in reading and writing over time. If it does, then this implies that morphological knowledge can compensate for phonological difficulties.

The researchers will investigate children aged 8 to 10 years old, with three types of phonological impairment: dyslexia, mild hearing loss, and transient hearing loss due to glue ear. All children will be matched to reading age controls and compared on measures of morphological knowledge, including static and dynamic tests of morphological awareness, and tests of whether they use morphological information in short-term memory and in sentence reading. The team will retest reading and spelling after 18 months to determine whether those children with good morphological knowledge have progressed faster than those with average or poor morphological knowledge.