1. This classic paper by Carol Chomsky provides a linguistic presentation of the structure and purpose and conventions of English orthography.

  2. Chomsky, C. (1970). Reading, writing, and phonology. Harvard Educational Review, 40 (2), 287–309.

In this paper, (click image to left) Chomsky articulates her concept of a lexical

Also investigate Venezky!

Another seminal paper on English orthography that I highly recommend is Richard Venezky’s 1967 piece, “English orthography: It’s graphical structure and its relation to sound” in  Reading Research Quarterly. (Click here.)

Consider this observation Venezky makes to introduce this work.

English orthography: It’s graphical structure and its relation to sound

English orthography: It’s graphical structure and its relation to sound

“[t]he simple fact is that the present orthography is not merely a letter-to-sound system riddled with imperfections, but, instead, a more complex and more regular relationship wherein phoneme and morpheme share leading roles” (p.77).

I still find it amazing that these foundational ideas about how English spelling works were well established all those years ago, but it was not until I encountered Real Spelling in my 9th year as an elementary teacher in 2001 that I ever encountered a teaching resource that explicitly and accurately directed me to these facts about English spelling.

I would also recommend Venezky’s 1970 and 1999 books which are regularly cited in the reading research literature.

Venezky, R. (1967). English orthography: Its

  graphical structure and its relation to sound.

  Reading Research Quarterly, 2, 75–105.

Venezky, R. (1970). The structure of English

  orthography. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.

Venezky, R. (1999). The American way of spelling.

  New York: Guilford.

spelling, which is represented so effectively by the word sum and the matrix. This concept is at the heart of the work of Real Spelling and WordWorks. Just a couple of quotes to whet your appetite...

“Lexical spellings represent the meaning-bering items directly, without introducing phonetic detail irrelevant to their identification. Thus on the lexical level and in the orthography, words that are the same look the same. In phonetic transcription they look different...the spelling system leads the reader directly to the meaning-bearing items that he needs to identify, without requiring that he abstract away from superficial and irrelevant phonetic detail." 294

“As soon as the children’s vocabulary permits, they could take up words like major-majority, history-historical-historian, nature-natural, etc. to see how one and the same root [base or stem] changes its pronunciation as different endings are added to it. They might even profitably be introduced to the idea … that the root [base or stem] alone doesn’t really have a specific pronunciation until you know what ending goes with it” (p. 298).

Notice how the practice of naming morphemes by their spellings, not their pronunciations that is a fundamental supported by Real Spelling and WordWorks is simply an implementation of Carol Chomsky’s recommendations in 1970. Use of the word sum, and the introduction of the matrix by Real Spelling offers teachers concrete tools to follow this advice.

The lexical word sum provides a concrete representation of the lexical spelling of an individual word. The orthographic morphological word matrix provides a concrete representation of the lexical spelling of an orthographic morphological word family.

Although Chomsky’s work is a classic and cited regularly in the literature, her recommendations for instruction have rarely be considered in the literature. That may be starting to change. Consider this from a recent review on morphological instruction by Joanne Carlisle (2010).

In rereading Chomsky (1970), I realized that I had forgotten how detailed and thoughtful her suggestions were for ways that students might benefit from instruction in morphological awareness. I was further struck by how little has been done since 1970 to investigate the nature and value of instruction in morphological awareness. Now that research on instruction in morphological awareness is an area of considerable interest in many countries, the time has come to rectify this situation.

Carlisle (2010) Effects of Instruction in Morphological Awareness on Literacy Achievement: An Integrative Review, Reading Research Quarterly, 45(4) • pp. 464–487


Copyright Susan and Peter Bowers 2008