Quantifying the Regularities Between Orthography and Semantics and Their Impact on Group and Individual-Level Behavior

Noam Siegelman*, Jay G. Rueckl, Jason Chor Ming Lo, Devin M. Kearns, Robin D. Morris, Donald L. Compton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Statistical views of reading highlight the link between proficient literacy and the assimilation of various regularities embedded in writing systems, including those in the mapping between print and meaning. Still, orthographic-semantic (O-S) regularities remain relatively understudied, with open questions regarding 3 issues: (a) how O-S regularities should be quantified, (b) how they impact the behavior of proficient readers, and (c) whether individual differences in sensitivity to these regularities predict reading skills. The goal of the current article is to address these questions. We start by reviewing previous studies estimating print-meaning regularities, where orthography-to-semantics consistency (OSC) is defined as the mean semantic similarity between a word and its orthographic neighbors. While we adopt this general strategy, we identify a potential confound in previous operational definitions. We therefore offer a modified measure, which we use to examine group-level OSC effects in available data sets of single word recognition and reading for comprehension. Our findings validate the existence of OSC effects but reveal variation across tasks, with OSC effects emerging more strongly in tasks involving a direct mapping of print to meaning. Next, we present a reanalysis of word naming data from 399 second through fifth graders, where we examine individual differences in reliance on O-S regularities and their relation to participants' reading skills. We show that early readers whose naming accuracy is more influenced by OSC (i.e., those who rely more on O-S) have better passage comprehension abilities.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)839-855
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022. American Psychological Association


  • Individual differences
  • Orthographic-semantic regularities
  • Print-meaning mapping
  • Reading
  • Word recognition


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