Dorta, bepre, buolo… They can be considered accidental voids of the language, or words that could have a meaning in Italian, but that do not have it just because, over the centuries, no one has assigned it to them. In fact, it is not certain that they do not already have this meaning in a language other than Italian (or in a local dialect) or that they do not acquire it in the future. For this reason they are defined as non-words (in English pseudowords)

An important, and in some ways controversial, aspect is that the non-words commonly used in reading tests respect the phonotaxis of the Italian language. In other words, even if they are not Italian words, they could be because they respect the sequences of vowels and consonants eligible in our language. Let's take ours, for example Non-word generator and we set up a structure (ex: CV-CVC-CV). With each click we will get some non-words: zefalfi, lidetre, gupecca. As you can see, they respect all the rules of Italian composition. In short, we will not get no words like: qalohke or puxaxda.

The reason why non-words are used, in reading and writing, is that they allow us to investigate the so-called phonological route, that is the mechanism that allows us to decode the “pieces” of each word and convert them, little by little, into graphemes (in the case of writing) or into sounds (in the case of reading aloud). The phonological way is a particularly useful way in reading foreign or unknown words, but it turns out to be very slow for the words we know (in fact, we read these words "at a glance" by activating the so-called via lexical). From the comparison between the phonological path and the lexical path it is possible to formulate hypotheses on the presence or absence of dyslexia in a child or an adult.


Another valid reason for using non-words is the fact that, since they do not exist in Italian, they are considered much more "neutral" for the evaluation of children, teens and adults who do not speak Italian like L1. In fact, it is difficult to expect that a boy less exposed to Italian will be able to read words as quickly as someone who has been exposed to them for years, while it is believed that non-words can embarrass both equally, as they should be new for both. But will it be true?

Actually there are at least two critical aspects which refer precisely to what we said previously:

  • A non-word is, for all intents and purposes, a non-existent word and should be decoded in its entirety. However, all the non-words we wrote at the beginning of this article (dorta, bepre, buolo) they are extremely similar to existing words in Italian (door, hare, good or soil); can we be sure that the non-word is decoded in its entirety? Are the word “tamente” and the word “lurisfo” read with the same rapidity or is the former affected by the presence of the suffix -mente used with extreme frequency in Italian? In this sense we speak of "word-likenessOf non-words: they are invented words, but sometimes very - too much - similar to really existing words. This could benefit a native Italian reader over those who are less exposed and could partially activate the lexical way (which we wanted to avoid). As for the adult, for example, I consider them to be extremely more indicative dys-words Battery BDA 16-30.
  • The non-words used in the evaluation of the reading respect the phonotaxis of Italian and not, for example, that of Norwegian or German. This phenomenon could give an Italian reader an advantage over a Norwegian or German, and would therefore make the presumed neutrality of non-words fall away.

Despite these limitations, non-words are widely used in the evaluation and treatment of the phonological pathway in reading or writing, both in children and adults. In the latter area, the studies of Professor Basso, who considers the not words as the only method to be sure of working on the phonological path. From personal experience, however, I have found many difficulties in setting up lasting works on non-words, especially because aphasic people sometimes find it difficult to recognize the existence or not of a word, and working on invented words is considered as source of confusion and waste of time. Many patients, in fact, push to recover really existing words, and they badly digest the work on non-words.

Ultimately, non-words remain above all a fundamental tool to get an idea of ​​the mechanisms active and used in reading; the comparison with words both in terms of speed and accuracy provides valuable information on the strategies used by the subject and allows you to set up a well-founded habilitation or rehabilitation work.

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