Center Papers

Processing Orthographic Structure: Associations Between Print And Fingerspelling

Emmorey, K., & Petrich, J. (2011). Processing orthographic structure: Associations between print and fingerspelling. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. DOI: 10.1093/deafed/enr051

Two lexical decision experiments are reported that investigate whether the same segmentation strategies are used for reading printed English words and fingerspelled words (in American Sign Language). Experiment 1 revealed that both deaf and hearing readers performed better when written words were segmented with respect to an orthographically defined syllable (the Basic Orthographic Syllable Structure [BOSS]) than with a phonologically defined syllable. Correlation analyses revealed that better deaf readers were more sensitive to orthographic syllable representations, whereas segmentation strategy did not differentiate the better hearing readers. In contrast to Experiment 1, Experiment 2 revealed better performance by deaf participants when fingerspelled words were segmented at the phonological syllable boundary. We suggest that English mouthings that often accompany fingerspelled words promote a phonological parsing preference for fingerspelled words. In addition, fingerspelling ability was significantly correlated with reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. This pattern of results indicates that the association between fingerspelling and print for adult deaf readers is not based on shared segmentation strategies. Rather, we suggest that both good readers and good fingerspellers have established strong representations of English and that fingerspelling may aid in the development and maintenance of English vocabulary.