Richard Shillcock and Matthias Hennig
Tue 05 Mar 2019, 11:00 - 12:00
IF 4.31/4.33

If you have a question about this talk, please contact: Gareth Beedham (gbeedham)

Richard Shillcock


Exploring visual-phonological systematicity in the Roman alphabet and other alphabets


[Based on Jee, Tamariz and Shillcock, submitted]


Linguists since Saussure have traditionally asserted that the relation between the form of words and their meaning is completely arbitrary. In fact, it turns out that there is a small but significant systematicity between phonological form and meaning, with considerable recent research on this issue (Blasi, Wichmann, Hammarstrom, Stadler, & Christiansen, 2016; Dautriche, Mahowald, Gibson, & Piantadosi, 2017; Monaghan, Shillcock, Christiansen, & Kirby, 2014; Shillcock, Kirby, McDonald, & Brew, 2001; Tamariz, 2008). Words that sound alike tend to have similar meanings, across a large lexicon, even after morphological structure and other historical issues have been allowed for. The effect size is very small, but it is of psychological interest.


We have extended this paradigm to the question of whether there is systematicity between the visual form of individual letters and their canonical pronunciation. There are potential implications font design, for learning to read, for ameliorating dyslexia, for interventions to simplify alphabets, and for understanding the processing involved in skilled reading. 


The systematicity of the representation of tongue position in Korean orthography (Hangeul) is well known—it was intentionally created that way. But what about the historically older Roman alphabet? Pitman’s shorthand? The ‘rational’ Shavian alphabet? Klingon?