Akshara-syllable mappings in Bengali: A language-specific skill for reading
Sircar S., Nag S.
© Cambridge University Press 2014.Writing systems Writing systems differ in the phonological units they represent. In alphabetic scripts, the basic unit represented by a grapheme is essentially a phoneme although the nature of this correspondence can vary. In languages such as Finnish, every grapheme is realized by only one phoneme and every phoneme represents one grapheme, making these transparent orthographies. Conversely, in opaque orthographies, a phoneme can be realized by different graphemes (e.g. compare /u:/in ‘to’, ‘too’, ‘two’), and a grapheme by many different phonemes (e.g. the letter [a] in ‘late’, ‘above’, ‘cat’ and ‘car’). In syllabic scripts such as Cherokee written units represent syllables. In contrast, the symbols in alphasyllabic scripts are orthographic syllables but can also be segmented into phonemes (Nag, 2011). In this chapter we examine how sound–symbol mappings influence the ability to read and process phonological units. As we will see, the unique properties of the Bengali writing system make it particularly useful for examining this question. Phonological and orthographic structure of Bengali Bengali has 7 oral vowels (/i/, /u/, /e/, /o/, /æ/, /ɔ/, /a/), 4 semi-vowels (/j/, /w/, //, //) and 30 consonants (Ray, Hai & Ray, 1966). Many diphthongs are possible and necessarily consist of one semi-vowel, though only two diphthongal symbols /oi/and /ou/are represented in the symbol register. All vowels can be nasalized. Vowel deletion (like schwa deletion) is common in the language, particularly in word medial and final positions. This phenomenon is governed by rules of syllabification, and in marginal cases by word etymology, phonotactic constraints and morphological compositions.