This chapter begins by discussing the principles that underlie systems of letter names in alphabetic writing systems. Chief among these is phonetic iconicity: The name of a letter should contain, and ideally begin with, the sound that it represents. Thus, many letter names (e.g., “bee” for B in English) are acrophonic. Across languages, letter names tend to be short and phonologically similar to one another. A letter name must also be a phonologically legal word of the language. Children apply the skills that they use for vocabulary learning in general to the learning of letter names. Children who are familiar with letter names use the iconicity of the names to help learn the letters’ sounds, as shown by evidence from learners of languages including English, Portuguese, and Hebrew. Debates have arisen about whether children should learn letter names or letter sounds, and the chapter discusses these and other pedagogical issues.
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