Reading the script: How the scripts and writing systems of Ethiopian languages relate to letter and word identification

Article published in Writing Systems Research. Published Abstract: Reading research suggests that script type and writing systems have a relationship with children’s ability to recognise letters, syllables and words. In Ethiopia, the scripts used for writing language differ by visual complexity and the psycholinguistic grain size of the script. The Ge’ez-script languages have alphasyllabic-based writing systems, while the Latin-script languages have phoneme-based writing systems. These differences in script and the differences in aspects of the writing system influence early reading acquisition. We exploited a large, regionally representative data set assessing a variety of early reading tasks in six Ethiopian languages to estimate the impact of script and aspects of writing system differences on early reading outcomes in the areas of letter identification, word reading, non-word decoding and story reading. We made comparisons between language outcomes using Ge’ez and Latin scripts, controlling for student background and school socio-economic status (SES). Additional analyses compared across-script and writing system differences within regions and gender. We found that Ethiopian script and writing system differences have implications for instructional methods for letter identification and word decoding.