In this seminar Tracy Probert, an MA graduate of the Department of English Language and Linguistics, will be presenting a report-back on her research.
The Southern Bantu languages in South Africa are syllabic, agglutinating languages with a transparent orthography. The Sotho language has a disjunctive orthography while the Nguni languages have a conjunctive orthography. To date there has been very little research on reading in the African languages generally. In particular, there has been almost no research on how differences in the disjunctive and conjunctive writing system might engender different reading profiles or developmental trajectories and what pedagogical implications there are for how best to teach reading literacy in agglutinating African languages. The current study examined the effect of Phonemic and Morphological grain sizes on reading in conjunctive (isiXhosa) and disjunctive (Setswana) writing systems. A set of language-specific tests were designed for this study, including a decomposition task, different subcomponents of the Phonological Awareness and Morphological Awareness battery of tests, and oral and silent reading and comprehension tasks. The results pointed towards a predominance of the syllable across readers from the two language groups. In addition to this, it was found that transparency aside, Morphological Awareness plays a greater role for learners of a conjunctive orthography than the learners of a disjunctive orthography, with isiXhosa learners expressing higher levels of Morphological Awareness than the Setswana learners. Furthermore the isiXhosa learners used the morpheme as a secondary grain in decoding. Learners approached word recognition based upon the writing systems and language-specific structures of the language. An understanding of reading in the Southern Bantu languages should thus take into cognisance the linguistic literacy processing units which underpin reading strategies, as well as how the orthography informs metalinguistic awareness skills. In turn, teaching strategies and curriculum statements should be designed around orthographic-specific influences and the differing literacy processing units.