Sublexical Structure in Braille: What we can Learn from Language and Cognition

Event Date

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 – 12:00pm to 1:00pm


Robert Englebretson, Ph.D., Rice University, Dept. of Linguistics/Joshua A. Miele



Previous research has overwhelmingly demonstrated that fluent print reading relies heavily on the unconscious visual recognition of units larger than single letters and smaller than whole words. Print readers automatically chunk groups of letters into complex graphemes (such as the digraph OA in ‘boat’) as a by-product of gestalt principles of visual organization, and print readers quickly and unconsciously parse whole words into their component morphemes (such as recognizing that the word ‘singers’ consists of the stem ‘sing’ followed by the suffixes -er and -s)independent of word meaning and based largely on the parallel processing of letters that the visual system enables. What, then, is the role of sublexical structure in braille reading, which relies exclusively on the tactile rather than the visual modality? This talk summarizes the findings of a recent study (Fischer-Baum and Englebretson, 2016) that provides experimental evidence demonstrating that adult readers of (English) braille do indeed access sublexical structure similar to print readers; namely the processing of digraphs as single orthographic units and the recognition of morphemes within morphologically- complex words.

This talk summarizes the findings of our study, discusses their consequences for our understanding of braille as a writing system, and suggests some potential contributions to braille pedagogy and development.

Fischer-Baum, S., & Englebretson, R. (2016). “Orthographic units in the absence of visual processing: Evidence from sublexical structure in braille.” Cognition, 153, 161-174.

Event Type