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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Phonological awareness in isiXhosa: what we know and where we can go

Date Released: Fri, 1 April 2016 13:36 +0200

Phonological awareness is a valuable tool that can be used in teaching children to read and testing their progress.  Rhodes Linguistics MA graduate Maxine Diemer gave an exciting report-back on her Master’s research about phonological awareness in isiXhosa in a Departmental Research Seminar on Tuesday 15 March, and showed what can be done to build on her work.

In her presentation, Maxine outlined how she developed linguistically based, language-specific measures of phonological awareness (PA) in isiXhosa.  Until now, the study of PA has predominantly focused on English, and there has not been adequate research on PA in African languages. She used the results of two studies to highlight what we know about PA in isiXhosa, and how this may differ from PA in English, as well as to suggest future avenues of research on this topic.

The first study showed that tasks measuring PA which are designed for a particular language allow us to discover effects of PA which are unique to that language.  For example, in isiXhosa the way in which words are built using many prefixes and suffixes may influence how easy it is for particular sounds to stand out in different positions in a word.

In the second study, Maxine and her colleagues revised the task they had designed to measure PA, so that they could understand the relationship between PA and different reading skills, namely fluency, accuracy and comprehension.  They found that PA is strongly linked to successful reading, just as many previous studies have shown. Their revised PA task also them to analyse the effects of various different factors on PA.  These factors include the spelling rules of the language, the difficulty of the task, the school the learners attended, and the position of sounds in the word.  Some of these effects have been found in previous studies on other languages, but others were found to be specific to isiXhosa, emphasizing the need for a robust PA test in the language.

Maxine made suggestions to improve the existing PA task, and identified areas where there are still gaps in our knowledge of how PA works in isiXhosa.

Source:Ian Siebörger