Writing Proficiency across Diverse Writing Systems: An Evaluation of the Effects of Orthographic Depth

  • Bestern Kaani
Keywords: English, Nyanja, orthographic transparency, writing, Zambia


This paper seeks to compare the effects of orthographic depth on 4th graders’ writing skills among Nyanja-English bilinguals in Zambia. The paper was premised on the assumption that orthographic depth would considerably affect writing development in similar ways as reading acquisition, and it was, therefore, envisaged that the dynamics observed in reading would be replicated in writing. To evaluate this hypothesis, Nyanja and English writing samples of six 4th graders were analysed to determine differences in writing mechanics and intelligibility in the scripts using a sequential mixed-methods case study design. Results show a significantly high word account in the English scripts, while the Nyanja scripts had more word variety. Additionally, English scripts were generally longer and had more syntactically complex sentences, while Nyanja samples had more word variety. It was difficult to differentiate intelligibility because participants failed to follow the basic convention of the main idea-supporting sentence paragraphing in both languages. The other major difference in the scripts was related to word spellings as most irregular English words were phonetically spelled. Majority of the Nyanja spelling errors were mostly over-generalisations of the English conventions. Basically, the study reveals that orthographic transparency, as shown in the acquisition of reading skills, exerts some influence on the development of writing skills as well. In conclusion, it was noted that despite being orthographically opaque and more challenging to master, pupils still have a slight advantage in English writing over Nyanja because of the availability of practice material, although oral vocabulary helps in generating more variety in the latter.