What is orthography?

Many research studies on literacy indicate that students who achieve high standards on text comprehension tasks also achieve high scores on vocabulary, morphology (units of meaning), phonology (pronunciation), syntax (grammar), and orthography.  In short, good readers (those who consistently understand what they read) have a good grasp on different aspects of language.  Many people know about vocabulary, morphology, phonology, and syntax.  However, when it comes to orthography most people have no idea about what it is. Over the years, I have had both the privilege and the opportunity to speak to teachers in different settings about various aspects of literacy, and when the question of orthography comes up I find that teachers have no clue what it is.

If orthography is something that good readers master, as parents, and educators, we might want to know what it is.  So what is orthography?  An orthography is simply a spelling system that is specific to a particular language.  So any language that is written down has its own orthography.  You might read about the Chinese orthography, the Finnish orthography, Italian orthography and the like. Each orthography, like the language it represents, is unique.  So English orthography is the entire English spelling system: the concepts, principles and conventions that govern how words are written down as text in English.

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