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Literacy development

Expertise: Literacy development

The English writing system is the most challenging of the alphabetic systems to learn and master. It takes children a number of years to learn to read and write fluently, as they must master not only the correspondences between sounds and letters, but also other higher-level patterns, such as conventions about which letters may co-occur in which word positions. For example, 'hh' does not occur, but 'ss' does, although never at the beginning of words.

English learners must also grasp how grammar governs spelling, for example the ending of mist vs. missed, and of magician vs. discussion vs. decoration. Even for skilled adult writers, there are many words that remain difficult to spell.

As digital communication becomes an increasingly important part of life for all age groups, writers must distinguish when it is, and is not, appropriate to use the abbreviated and casual spellings of this writing style: "hi how r u??!!".

Research leader and Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Dr Nenagh Kemp, has expertise in the acquisition and mastery of written language, from childhood to adulthood. She has also extensively studied the written language of digital communication, and its linguistic and social consequences. These areas all have great potential for further research, whether as student projects or as collaborative research areas.


Dr Nenagh Kemp


  • Spelling development in children; spelling strategies in adults
    • Sensitivity to letter co-occurrence patterns
    • Links with knowledge of grammar
    • Spelling intervention studies
    • Sensitivity to word-level cues to spelling choice
  • The language of digital communication: "textese"
    • Change in textese over time
    • Use of textese in different settings, such as school, University and the workplace
    • Use of textese by people with different levels of literacy skill
    • Social and practical consequences of textese use

Research impact

Researchers in Tasmania and the UK have analysed the relationship between text messages sent by young people, and their performance on formal tests of grammar and spelling.


  • Literacy
  • Language
  • Reading
  • Spelling
  • Development psycholinguistics
  • Textese