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We investigated children's spelling in the alphasyllabic writing system of Kannada, a South Indian language. Kannada represents language at roughly the level of the syllable, but its symbols or 'akshara' can be segmented visually to reveal the consonant and vowel segments within. Having been taught akshara as whole, fourth- and fifth-grade children were poor at constructing complex akshara from their consonant and vowel segments. Analyses of their errors showed confusions between the symbols for phonologically similar consonants, visually based errors, particularly on small diacritic marks, and influences of dialect. Kannada has been considered a transparent writing system, but the challenges that arise in mastering this visuo-spatially complex and extensive orthography suggest that previous studies have missed certain factors that contribute to the ease or difficulty with which a writing system is learned. © The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press.

Original publication




Journal article


Writing Systems Research

Publication Date





41 - 52