So far, in studying how children spell phonemes, I have discussed three kinds of spellings that children may produce. First, children may spell the phoneme correctly. Second, children may use an incorrect spelling in place of the correct spelling. Third, children may fail to spell the phoneme altogether. In this chapter, I consider yet another type of error. This error, a reversal error, involves a pair of phonemes. In a reversal error, a child symbolizes both phonemes in a pair, either correctly or incorrectly. The error arises because the child transcribes the phonemes in the wrong order. For example, the child who spelled and as NAD presumably intended n to symbolize /n/ (a correct spelling), a to symbolize /æ/ (a correct spelling), and d to symbolize /d/ (also a correct spelling). Although the child represented each phoneme in the word, she placed the letter for /n/ before the letter for /æ/. That is, she reversed /æ/ and /n/. In this chapter, I ask when and why such errors occur. The study of reversals takes on particular significance given the importance that has sometimes been attached to such errors. Reversals of letter sequence as in NAD for and, like reversals of individual letters as in DAT for bat, have often been seen as symptoms of spelling and reading disability. For example, Orton (1937) viewed these errors as signs of brain dysfunction. He claimed that the errors reflect a failure to establish normal hemispheric dominance for language. Contrary to Orton’s claims, it appears that reversals in reading are better explained in terms of orthographic knowledge than in terms of minimal brain dysfunction (I.Y. Liberman, Shankweiler, Orlando, Harris, & Berti, 1971). Misreadings like was for saw are not limited to disabled readers. They also occur among normal beginners. In this chapter, I ask whether the same holds true for spelling. Do normal beginning spellers sometimes make reversal errors? If so, when do these errors occur? Traditionally, reversal errors have been defined orthographically, with regard to the letters in the word’s conventional printed form.
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