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Acquisition of orthographic knowledge and phonemic sensitivity are processes that are central to early reading development in several languages. The language-specific characteristics of the alphasyllabaries (Bright, 1996), however, challenge the constructs of orthographic knowledge and phonemic sensitivity as discussed in the context of alphabetic scripts. This paper reports a study of 5-10-year-olds in Kannada, an alphasyllabary that represents print in units called akshara. It was hypothesised that in Kannada, when compared with the developmental pace reported in English early reading, (a) akshara knowledge acquisition would take longer and (b) phoneme awareness would be slower to emerge. The study found these hypotheses to hold true across grades and in both low-achieving and effective schools. The paper discusses the nature of the cognitive demands in akshara reading and the akshara-specific characteristics that set a pace of acquisition of orthographic knowledge and phonemic sensitivity that is quite at variance from what has been documented in the alphabetic scripts. © United Kingdom Literacy Association 2007.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Research in Reading

Publication Date





7 - 22