Volume 25, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1387-6732
  • E-ISSN: 1570-6001
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Orthographic depth is a key concept in literacy acquisition and can be measured separately for completeness, simplicity and consistency. The first of these is pertinent to discussions about whether tone should be marked in African orthographies, because a zero tone representation is relatively incomplete and deep whereas a full tone orthography is relatively complete and shallow. We undertook a series of literacy experiments in ten Niger-Congo languages to test the extent to which full tone marking contributes to reading and writing skills. In a within-subject design that closely follows Bird (1999b), participants orally read two full tone and two zero tone texts and also added tone accents to unmarked versions of two of the texts. Speed, accuracy, comprehension, as well as a range of linguistic, ethno-literacy, demographic and L2 literacy variables were tracked. The present article narrows the scope of the wider research project (Roberts & Walter 2021) to two of the languages, Yoruba and Ife, which are linguistically similar, yet have highly dissimilar results. In Yoruba, full tone marking does not contribute to any improvement in reading measurements, and tone writing skills are generally poor. In Ife, on the other hand, full tone marking contributes to speed, accuracy and comprehension, and tone writing is the most accurate of all the languages. The results suggest that the social profile of the participant and the ethno-literacy profile of the language community are more predictive of reading and writing performance than is the linguistic profile of the language.


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