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The current study investigated the time course of cross-linguistic differences in word recognition. We recorded eye movements of German and English children and adults while reading closely matched sentences, each including a target word manipulated for length and frequency. Results showed differential word recognition processes for both developing and skilled readers. Children of the two orthographies did not differ in terms of total word processing time, but this equal outcome was achieved quite differently. Whereas German children relied on small-unit processing early in word recognition, English children applied small-unit decoding only upon rereading-possibly when experiencing difficulties in integrating an unfamiliar word into the sentence context. Rather unexpectedly, cross-linguistic differences were also found in adults in that English adults showed longer processing times than German adults for nonwords. Thus, although orthographic consistency does play a major role in reading development, cross-linguistic differences are detectable even in skilled adult readers.

Original publication




Journal article


J Exp Child Psychol

Publication Date





92 - 105


Cross-linguistic, Eye movements, Frequency effect, Length effect, Orthographic consistency, Word recognition, Adult, Age Factors, Analysis of Variance, Child, England, Eye Movements, Female, Germany, Humans, Language, Linguistics, Male, Reaction Time, Reading, Recognition (Psychology), Young Adult