Visual word stress marking and reading: The prosodic underdetermination of German script – visual enrichment as potential facilitation in reading

PhD project by Philip Kehl

Where is prosody located in the writing system of German?

The term prosody describes all characteristics of a string of sounds that are superimposed on the individual sounds. Among other things, this involves stressing of syllables. German script does not contain any direct clues as to how a word or a sentence is stressed correctly. Even when reading single words, individuals who learn to read and those with low reading skills find it difficult to stress the correct syllable (i.e. to correctly assign word stress). Assembling single sounds (often clearly coded by letters) in syllables is only one part of the process of reading. If word stress is assigned correctly, a word can also be processed more easily as lexical unit, which has positive effects on pronunciation and comprehension. It seems plausible to assume that weak readers, in particular those who do not yet process a word in its entirety, benefit from the word stress-bearing syllable being marked.

Does marking the stressed syllable help when reading a word?

Within the framework of my project, a first experiment with adults will investigate whether marking facilitates reading and if so, which type is most effective (arches under the syllables, underlining / bold print / colored highlighting of the stressed syllable, etc.). Subsequently, we will test whether this type of visual word stress marking influences the reading performance of primary school children. The main focus will be on a learning study to investigate whether children benefit in the longer term from training sessions that include instructions for reading script with word stress markings.


[Translate to English:] Projekt Philip Kehl

Benefits for didactics

In textbooks for beginners in reading and learners of German as a foreign language, the syllable is discussed and sometimes marked as a unit, but stress is very rarely visually marked as a feature. If our studies show reliable evidence of positive effectiveness of word stress marking, this will support didactic approaches that take prosodic aspects into account more strongly.