Early development of language by hand: composing, reading, listening, and speaking connections; three letter-writing modes; and fast mapping in spelling

Dev Neuropsychol. 2006;29(1):61-92. doi: 10.1207/s15326942dn2901_5.


The first findings from a 5-year, overlapping-cohorts longitudinal study of typical language development are reported for (a) the interrelationships among Language by Ear (listening), Mouth (speaking), Eye (reading), and Hand (writing) in Cohort 1 in 1st and 3rd grade and Cohort 2 in 3rd and 5th grade; (b) the interrelationships among three modes of Language by Hand (writing manuscript letters with pen and keyboard and cursive letters with pen) in each cohort in the same grade levels as (a); and (c) the ability of the 1st graders in Cohort 1 and the 3rd graders in Cohort 2 to apply fast mapping in learning to spell pseudowords. Results showed that individual differences in Listening Comprehension, Oral Expression, Reading Comprehension, and Written Expression are stable developmentally, but each functional language system is only moderately correlated with the others. Likewise, manuscript writing, cursive writing, and keyboarding are only moderately correlated, and each has a different set of unique neuropsychological predictors depending on outcome measure and grade level. Results support the use of the following neuropsychological measures in assessing handwriting modes: orthographic coding, rapid automatic naming, finger succession (grapho-motor planning for sequential finger movements), inhibition, inhibition/switching, and phonemes skills (which may facilitate transfer of abstract letter identities across letter formats and modes of production). Both 1st and 3rd graders showed evidence of fast mapping of novel spoken word forms onto written word forms over 3 brief sessions (2 of which involved teaching) embedded in the assessment battery; and this fast mapping explained unique variance in their spelling achievement over and beyond their orthographic and phonological coding abilities and correlated significantly with current and next-year spelling achievement.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Handwriting*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Language Development*
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Multilingualism
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Reading*
  • Regression, Psychology
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*