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The Role of the Syllable in ‘Dehnung und Schärfung’ - Evidence based on the Analysis of Children's Handwriting Movements

Guido Nottbusch

Presentation held at the 29th Annual Meeting of the German Society for Linguistics (DGfS) in Siegen, February 28 - March 02, 2007: "System und Variation". Workshop: Schrift-System-Variation, Chair: Beatrice Primus, Nanna Fuhrhop

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The occurrence of 'Schärfung' (consonant doubling following a short vowel) in German orthography is assumed to be dependent on syllable features and boundaries (or rather interludes). Concerning 'Dehnung' (marked vowel length) the role of the syllable is less clear. Besides some regularities and frequencies, prosodic features ('Silbenschnitt') and syllable weight are the key terms in the discussion. Both fields pose problems for children writing acquisition.
With respect to the time course, current models of word writing assume that a word is not fully specified initially. Instead, processing occurs in syllable and morpheme frames, reflected in longer pauses at syllable boundaries in proficient writers' handwriting or typing movements. Syllabic segmentation is therefore assumed to be an optimization of the processes involved in writing and seems to be a part of writing acquisition. The grade of acquisition of syllabic segmentation can be determined by analyzing children's handwriting movements using a digitizer.
In a handwriting experiment with 27 children (5th grade), I checked the hypothesis that the grade of acquisition of syllabic segmentation is correlated with orthographic competence in general and with the correct use of 'Dehnung und Schärfung' in particular. In parallel with the theoretical considerations, the analyses show a clear correlation between the number of errors concerning 'Schärfung' and syllabic segmentation, for 'Dehnung' the results were non-significant. The implications of these results will be discussed.

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