All Letters Are Not Equal: Subgraphemic Texture in Orthographic Working Memory

Angela C. Jones, Jocelyn R. Folk, Brenda Rapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


A central issue in the study of reading and spelling has been to understand how the consistency or frequency of letter-sound relationships affects written language processing. We present, for the first time, evidence that the sound-spelling frequency of subgraphemic elements of words (letters within digraphs) contributes to the accuracy with which these letters are produced in spelling. We report findings from 2 studies that demonstrate that letters within digraphs display differential susceptibility to error under conditions of disruption to orthographic working memory (O-WM). In the 1st, O-WM was disrupted as a result of neurological damage; in the 2nd, O-WM disruption was produced in neurologically intact, skilled spellers under dual task conditions with a shadowing task carried out during spelling. In both studies, segments with low versus high levels of sound-letter convergence, a measure of the frequency of sublexical mappings, were more vulnerable to disruption even when factors such as letter position, consonant-vowel context, and phoneme-to-grapheme mapping probability of the digraphs were controlled. These results contribute to our understanding of the internal texture of orthographic representations, providing evidence that individual letters differ in their activation strength and, as a result, in their susceptibility to error.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1389-1402
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • orthographic working memory
  • spelling
  • subgraphemic texture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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