The Fragility of the Alphabetic Principle: Children's Knowledge of Letter Names Can Cause Them to Spell Syllabically Rather Than Alphabetically

J Exp Child Psychol. 1997 Mar;64(3):425-51. doi: 10.1006/jecp.1996.2353.


The present research was designed to investigate how children's early-acquired knowledge of letter names affects their spelling. Specifically, we asked whether kindergartners and first graders sometimes spell a sequence of phonemes such as /bi/ (the name of the letter b) or /zi/ (the name of the letter z) with the corresponding consonant letter rather than spelling the sequence alphabetically, with a consonant letter followed by a vowel letter. Children made a number of letter-name spelling errors, especially when the consonant and vowel formed a complete syllable. These results show that children's knowledge of letter names can cause them to deviate from the alphabetic principle-the principle that each phoneme should be represented with a single grapheme. The findings further suggest that syllables play a special role in early writing.