Child writing in an exercise book

Morphological processing in children with phonological difficulties: The Coventry and Warwick morphology and phonology project


Nuffield Foundation

Total value of project


Project team

Professor Julia Carroll, Dr Helen Breadmore

Duration of project

01/01/2012 - 01/10/2017

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Project overview

We know that children who struggle with processing speech sounds (phonology) are also likely to have difficulties in reading and writing. This project investigates how much children use information about the internal structure of words (morphology) to compensate for these difficulties. Morphology refers to the parts of words that carry meaning, for example, the word ‘boys’ has two morphemes ‘boy’ and ‘s’, which indicates a plural.

Knowledge of a word’s morphemes can help us to read and write unusual words such as ‘health’ (which contains ‘heal’) and ‘sign’ (which shares a morpheme with signal and signature). It is important to know whether children who have phonological difficulties are sensitive to this type of information, and if so, whether this sensitivity helps their progress in reading and writing over time. If it does, then this implies that morphological knowledge can compensate for phonological difficulties.

Project objectives

This project investigates how much children use information about the internal structure of words (morphology) to compensate for difficulties in phonics when reading and writing. We examine whether children with dyslexia and children with a history of ear infections are sensitive to this type of information.

The researchers will investigate children aged 8 to 10 years old, with three types of phonological impairment: dyslexia, mild hearing loss, and transient hearing loss due to glue ear. All children will be matched to reading age controls and compared on measures of morphological knowledge, including static and dynamic tests of morphological awareness, and tests of whether they use morphological information in short-term memory and in sentence reading. The team will retest reading and spelling after 18 months to determine whether those children with good morphological knowledge have progressed faster than those with average or poor morphological knowledge.

  • The project demonstrated that children with otitis media and children with dyslexia both show phonological difficulties, but that these difficulties are different in the two groups.

    Children with otitis media showed difficulties in perceptual processing, while children with dyslexia showed difficulties in metalinguistic processing. Children with otitis media showed no difficulties in morphological processing. Children with dyslexia were sensitive to morphological information, but found it highly confusable.


    Not all phonological awareness deficits are created equal: Evidence from a comparison between children with Otitis Media and poor readers. Carroll, J. & Breadmore, H., 17 Apr 2018, In: Developmental Science. 21, p. 1-12 12 p., e12588.

    Sublexical and syntactic processing during reading: evidence from eye movements of typically developing and dyslexic readers. Breadmore, H. & Carroll, J.2018In: Journal of Cognitive Psychology. 302p. 177-197 21 p.

    Effects of orthographic, morphological and semantic overlap on short-term memory for words in typical and atypical development. Breadmore, H. L. & Carroll, J. M.2016In: Scientific Studies of Reading. 206p. 471-489

    Morphological spelling in spite of phonological deficits: Evidence from children with dyslexia and Otitis Media. Breadmore, H. & Carroll, J.Nov 2016In: Applied Psycholinguistics. 376p. 1439-1460

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