Word Properties Affecting Reading Accuracy

Written words differ along many dimensions. Some differences among written words, such as the word's initial letter or physical characteristics such as color, height, or type font, have little relevance to alexia. Other characteristics of words are extremely important in diagnosing and understanding alexia. These include part of speech, concreteness, length, regularity, and familiarity.

1. Part of Speech

For some alexic patients, the probability of reading a word correctly is dependent on the word's syntactic class. What is remarkable is that when a patient shows such a part-of-speech effect, the order of difficulty of the word classes is usually predictable. Nouns and adjectives are typically read best; verbs are read with greater difficulty; and functor words, including prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, articles, and auxiliary verbs (e.g., have and was), are read most poorly. Part-of-speech effects are always seen in deep alexia and often in phonological alexia.

2. Concreteness

Another dimension along which words can be divided is the degree to which their referents are concrete or accessible to the senses. This is highly correlated with imageability, the ease with which a word's referent can be imaged. For some alexic patients, words that are highly concrete or imageable (e.g., chair) are more likely to be read correctly than words low in image-ability or concreteness (e.g., truth). Patients with deep alexia always display a concreteness effect, and patients with phonological alexia may show this effect as well.

3. Length

The length of a written word will affect its likelihood of being read correctly for patients with certain types of alexia but not for others. For some patients, particularly those with pure alexia, words containing more letters will be more difficult. For other patients, especially those with phonologic/deep alexia, the number of syllables (not letters) might affect the difficulty of reading the word. For many patients, however, neither of these measures of length will be significantly correlated with reading success.

4. Regularity

This refers to the degree to which a word's pronunciation can be determined by its spelling—that is, whether it can be "sounded out'' on the basis of spelling-to-sound correspondences. For some patients, particularly those with surface alexia, words that are highly regular such as pin and tub are more likely to be read correctly than irregular (also called "exception") words such as pint and touch.

5. Familiarity

Familiarity, whether or not a word is known to the reader as a real word, affects the reading of some alexic patients. An unimpaired adult reader can read both familiar real words and unfamiliar pronounceable nonwords (pseudowords), such as "rithy" or "Mr. Jamport." The reading of patients with phonologic/ deep alexia is sensitive to this variable; real words such as rot may be read better than pseudowords such as bot.

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