On the literacy horizon: Morphology

By: | April 29, 2019
gettyimages.com: grivina

You will hear this word a lot in future literacy discussions: morphology, or the meaning of words. In a nutshell, the English spelling system is designed to represent both the sounds (phonemes) and word meaning (morphology).

Researcher Jeffrey Bowers, professor of cognitive science at the University of Bristol in England, points out that English prioritizes spelling consistency for words that share meaning over spelling consistency for words that share sounds. For example, “heal” and “heel” share no meaning, though they share sounds. That’s confusing for young learners. But morphology helps: “heal” and “healthy” share a root word based on meaning.

“From a psychology perspective, the fundamental thing we know is that learning and memory are better when we organize information in a meaningful way,” says Bowers.

Morphology imbues the English language with deeper meaning, which helps students and educators see how it all comes together. Literacy researcher Anne Castles of Macquarie University in Australia says her team and many others are currently working on morphology research, which holds much promise for advancing reading education.

Main story: Teaching phonics builds balanced literacy