Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Beyond the Board: Metalinguistic Awareness and Language Beliefs Among Expert Scrabble Players

Beyond the Board: Metalinguistic Awareness and Language Beliefs Among Expert Scrabble Players

Talia Gordon

Metalinguistic awareness refers to the ability to think about and reflect upon the nature, structure and functions of language and is connected to the development of linguistic competence. Proficiency in word-based games, such as Scrabble, is often associated with language ability and general intelligence, particularly in North American culture. Despite its popular association with vocabulary and language use, however, competitive Scrabble play has been given relatively little attention in sociolinguistic or anthropological research. This paper explores metalinguistic awareness and language beliefs among English-speaking expert (tournament-rated) Scrabble players with regard to the relationship between proficiency in play and perceived linguistic competence. Based on ethnographic interviews with expert members of a North American Scrabble Players Association club in Michigan, the paper examines the association between word acquisition for game play, lexical knowledge and self-perceptions of facility with language, including verbal ability, reading comprehension and writing skills. Further, it examines the beliefs held by expert Scrabble players with regard to proficiency in play and general intelligence. In contrast to cognition-based studies that have emphasized a disjuncture between word acquisition and lexical knowledge for many highly proficient Scrabble players, this paper suggests that metalinguistic awareness and linguistic competence among experts is both highly developed and continuously enhanced through competitive Scrabble play. 

Keywords: metalinguistic awareness, language beliefs, linguistic competence, word acquisition, expert performance, Scrabble

April 15, 2013 - Posted by | abstract


  1. What a fun and interesting topic! I bet they think they’re smarter than the rest of us don’t they?

    Comment by Brenna | April 15, 2013 | Reply

  2. It is an interesting topic. I would love to read more about it.

    Comment by Hind Ababtain | April 15, 2013 | Reply

  3. Long, long ago, MAD magazine published a collection of fight songs for nerdy sports– way ahead of the curve, as usual. This one goes to the tune of the Notre Dame fight song:

    Cheer, cheer for our Scrabble squad
    They fill the board with words that are odd
    Adz and xebec, zax and qua
    Zarf and quinoa, pyx and ka
    Jato and furzy, os, ot and ugh
    Zygote and baba, yoho and vug
    They know every word except the one that spells VICTORY!

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 25, 2013 | Reply

  4. Linguistic analysis of expert Scrabble game play? What an interesting and fun topic. I’m certain your paper is an informative and enjoyable reading.

    Comment by Darlene Pennington-Johnson | April 28, 2013 | Reply

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