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Reading isiZulu: reading processes in an agglutinative language with a transparent orthography.

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The focus of this thesis is skilled silent reading in isiZulu. It begins by exploring the current social and educational context of learning to read and practising reading skills in isiZulu. It then considers eye movement patterns that point to proficient reading or incompetent reading, and discusses pitfalls in designing research that aims to compare reading across languages. Thereafter, by exploring measurable aspects of eye movement patterns of a group of skilled adult readers of isiZulu it offers a tentative profile of the reading processes currently exhibited by these readers. This profile indicates that with an average reading speed of 815 letters per minute, isiZulu text takes more time to read than text in other alphabetic languages, and that readers‟ eye movement patterns differ considerably from the patterns known to characterise proficient reading of English. The comparison is pertinent since English is the most common second language amongst speakers of isiZulu. Psycholinguistic grain size theory provides a useful frame for understanding the differing reading behaviours that appear to characterise each language. The thesis goes on to analyse indications of automaticity in recordings of eye movement, and suggests textual factors that might be associated with immediate recognition of words or active decoding, which is the opposite of automatic recognition. Findings suggest that the agglutinative structure and conjoined writing system of isiZulu may be less conducive to the development and exercise of automaticity than orthographies of disjunctive languages. Finally, through a process of using the records of each reader‟s moving point of focus as a stimulus for recall the intricacies of the cognitive experience of reading of each participant are explored. Their finely detailed accounts are used to identify strategies consciously used by competent readers of isiZulu. Some of these strategies, such as visualisation, are common to efficient readers of all languages, while others might be peculiar to agglutinative and/or tonal languages. These strategies inform suggestions that may be helpful to educationalists in enhancing the development of effective reading skills in isiZulu.


Doctor of Philosophy in IsiZulu. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2015.


Zulu language--Reading--South Africa., Language and languages--Orthography and spelling., Theses--isiZulu.