Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Chair and Committee

Rebecca Treiman


Many spelling errors in English are doubling errors, as when people are stumped by the double ‹l› in ‹trellis›. In Study 1, we tabulated statistical patterns with regards to doubling in English. In Study 2, we collected behavioral data to see if people were sensitive to these statistical patterns in doubling and to explore other factors that might influence doubling such as context, individual differences: language background and spelling ability), and task. We gave two nonword spelling tasks to US college students: N=68) and bilingual Singaporean college students from an English-based education system but with diverse language backgrounds: Mandarin: N=54), Malay: N=44), or Tamil: N=42). In the choice task, participants heard a nonword and chose between two spelling options, e.g. dremmib/dremib. In the free task, they wrote down its best spelling. We found a vowel length effect: more doubling after short vowels than long vowels) that was moderated by spelling ability: better spellers were more influenced by vowel length) and language background. Americans had the largest vowel length effect and Tamil Singaporeans had none, as they possibly associated consonant doubling with the lengthening of doubled consonants in Tamil instead of the preceding vowel. The Mandarin group spelled nonwords least accurately, and greater knowledge of pinyin, a phoneme-based writing system, was associated with higher nonword spelling accuracy. These and other findings reflect how linguistic factors and language background moderate the role of statistical learning and context in spelling.


Permanent URL: