Desktop version

Home arrow Language & Literature

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Autonomy and interaction in the acquisition of the written language

Written language competence is not a monolithic phenomenon but is rather characterised by a complex interaction of skills related to different components, such as

  • - the script (knowledge of the features of the units of a language-specific script)
  • - the writing system (including knowledge of correspondence rules that regulate the relation between the spoken language and the written language and the specific constraints that hold of the language-specific orthographic system)
  • - the underlying language system (language-specific properties of the components of language knowledge, that is, lexicon, morphosyntax, and discourse)
  • - pragmatic skills (constraints determining choice of linguistic devices in relation to different registers, genres, text types)
  • - metalinguistic skills (about the properties of the spoken language and the written language, and their inter-relation).

Based on the Interdependence hypothesis sketched previously, we assume that in their acquisition of the skills and competences related to these components learners also exploit their spoken language resources. To better assess this inter-relation, it is useful to distinguish competences according to their autonomy, interaction or common underlying basis, as it is proposed in Table 2.3. Following this distinction, we assume (a) that some components are acquired autonomously (e.g. graphemic rules), or in an autonomous but related manner (pragmatics),

(b) that a reciprocal influence between spoken language and written language underlies the attainment of skills that involve bidirectional correspondences (e.g. sound-letter correspondences, metalinguistic awareness), and (c) that grammat?ical competence can be acquired via both or either modality alone, where one of both is not available or not accessible. Note that the latter assumption implies the attribution of an equal status to the auditory-oral and the visuo-graphemic modality of expression in that neither is assumed to more directly related to the underlying language knowledge (cf. Gunther 2003 for a discussion from a different but related theoretical standpoint).

Table 2.3: Skills and competences involved in the acquisition of the written language.

Knowledge areas and units

Relation to spoken language

writing system (script, orthography)

letters / words

  • - script units
  • - graphemic rules


- sound-letter correspondence rules



words / sentences

  • - phonology
  • - morphology
  • - syntax

common basis



  • - discourse rules
  • - registers
  • - text types

autonomy and interaction

metalinguistic skills

all units / combination rules

- all levels of linguistic analysis


Neef and Primus (2001: 374, our transl., our emphasis) succinctly remark that “... spoken and written language have the same status and that neither can claim primacy. At a deeper level we are dealing with a much more abstract system.”

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics