On the Anglocentricities of Current Reading Research and Practice:

Psychological Bulletin
2008, Vol. 134, No. 4, 584 – 615
Copyright 2008 by the American Psychological Association
0033-2909/08/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.4.584
On the Anglocentricities of Current Reading Research and Practice:
The Perils of Overreliance on an “Outlier” Orthography
David L. Share
University of Haifa
In this critique of current reading research and practice, the author contends that the extreme ambiguity
of English spelling–sound correspondence has confined reading science to an insular, Anglocentric
research agenda addressing theoretical and applied issues with limited relevance for a universal science
of reading. The unique problems posed by this “outlier” orthography, the author argues, have focused
disproportionate attention on oral reading accuracy at the expense of silent reading, meaning access, and
fluency, and have significantly distorted theorizing with regard to many issues—including phonological
awareness, early reading instruction, the architecture of stage models of reading development, the
definition and remediation of reading disability, and the role of lexical–semantic and supralexical
information in word recognition. The dominant theoretical paradigm in contemporary (word) reading
research—the Coltheart/Baron dual-route model (see, e.g., J. Baron, 1977; M. Coltheart, 1978) and, in
large measure, its connectionist rivals—arose largely in response to English spelling–sound obtuseness.
The model accounts for a range of English-language findings, but it is ill-equipped to serve the interests
of a universal science of reading chiefly because it overlooks a fundamental unfamiliar-to-familiar/
novice-to-expert dualism applicable to all words and readers in all orthographies.
Keywords: reading, word recognition, orthography, Anglocentrism
to English speakers reading in their native tongue. Some significant first steps have been made toward developing general theories
of reading that look beyond the English language (see, e.g., Frost,
2005; Katz & Frost, 1992; Perfetti, Liu, & Tan, 2005; Seymour,
2006; Ziegler & Goswami, 2005, 2006); nonetheless, it is becoming clear that there are fundamental differences between orthographies and that a complete science of reading must embrace all of
the world’s readers and all of the scripts that they read— both
native and, for a majority of humanity, one or more additional
scripts. A full understanding of both the universal and languagespecific features of reading is, today, a goal well beyond reach
(Venezky, 2006). The central claim elaborated here is that the
idiosyncrasies of English, an exceptional, indeed, outlier orthography in terms of spelling–sound correspondence,1 have shaped a
contemporary reading science preoccupied with distinctly narrow
Anglocentric research issues that have only limited significance
for a universal science of reading. I am not suggesting that AngloAmerican researchers have deliberately imposed their views on the
In the preface to their monumental work The Sounds of the
World’s Languages, Peter Ladefoged and Ian Maddieson (1996)
have claimed that “[W]e know enough about the languages of the
world to be able to write a book that covers them all” (p. 1). This
enviable state of affairs probably also applies to the study of the
world’s writing systems (Daniels & Bright, 1996), although many
extinct scripts still remain to be deciphered. For contemporary
reading researchers, however, such a claim remains an elusive and
futuristic goal. Despite the fact that a large body of convergent
findings has accrued over the last century on skilled reading,
reading development, reading difficulties, instruction and remediation (see, e.g., Huey, 1908/1968; Kamil, Mosenthal, Pearson, &
Barr, 2002; National Reading Panel, 2000; Rayner, Foorman,
Perfetti, Pesetsky, & Seidenberg, 2001; Rayner & Pollatsek, 1989;
Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Snowling & Hulme, 2005; Stanovich, 2000), the current state of our knowledge is largely confined
Many of the ideas elaborated in this article were first presented at a
symposium dealing with universal and language-specific aspects of developmental dyslexia chaired by Brian Byrne that took place at the World Congress
of Psychology in Stockholm, Sweden, in August 2000. These ideas were
further developed and put to paper while I was a visiting researcher at the
Faculty of Education at the University of Amsterdam in 2005. I wish to
acknowledge the generous hospitality of Aryan van der Leij and Peter de Jong,
and the many valuable discussions that took place during this visit. I am also
indebted to Max Coltheart, Peter de Jong, Aryan van der Leij, and Tami Katzir
for valuable comments on an earlier version of this article. Special thanks to
Liat Butbul for assistance in preparing the article. A number of the Hebrewlanguage studies reported in the article were funded by the Israel Science
Foundation and the Ministry of Education: Office of the Chief Scientist.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David L.
Share, Department of Learning Disabilities, Faculty of Education, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, 31905, Haifa, Israel. E-mail:
[email protected]
1
It should be stressed that I am not espousing the view (see, e.g., Finnegan,
1987; F. Smith, 1978) that English spelling is chaotic. On the contrary, I have
argued elsewhere that English is sufficiently regular to be a functional (i.e.,
decipherable) alphabet even for novice readers (see Share, 1995, pp. 160 –
163). It is now well established that consonantal letters in English are highly
predictable, and even vowel letters display a large degree of conditional
consistency once position, graphemic context, and morphemic regularities are
taken into account (Carney, 1994; Kessler & Treiman, 2001; Venezky, 1970).
Only a small proportion of the English lexicon represent isolated exceptions,
such as broad and choir (Crystal, 2003), but perhaps because many of these are
extremely common words (e.g., was, of, some), the reader easily gains the
impression that much of printed English is arbitrary or chaotic. Nevertheless,
both psychologists and linguists (see, e.g., Borgwaldt et al., 2005; Daniels &
Bright, 1996; Seymour et al., 2003; Ziegler et al., 1996) are unanimous in
proclaiming that the English spelling–sound code (or rather cipher) is the most
complex of all the world’s alphabetic orthographies.
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ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
field; rather, the field as a whole, Anglophone and nonAnglophone, is unwittingly a victim of the peculiarities of English
orthography.
The sheer volume and near-unrivalled preeminence of Englishlanguage reading research and theorizing, together with the proliferation of the Anglophone research agenda around the globe,
have led a growing number of theorists to question the applicability of Anglophone findings to other languages and orthographies
(e.g., Perfetti, Liu, & Tan, 2005; Seymour, 2005; Ziegler & Goswami, 2005). Recent evidence from fields such as dyslexia (e.g.,
Goulandris, 2003; Vellutino, Fletcher, Snowling, & Scanlon,
2004), reading development (e.g., Aaron & Joshi, 2006; Harris &
Hatano, 1999; Ziegler & Goswami, 2005), and skilled reading
(Frost, 1998, 2005; Perfetti, Liu, & Tan, 2005) has led to expressions of unease regarding the exceptional nature of English orthography in comparison with other alphabetic orthographies. In
the developmental literature, this deviance has been characterized
as “dramatic” (Frith, Wimmer, & Landerl, 1998, p. 39; Hutzler,
Ziegler, Perry, Wimmer, & Zorzi, 2004, p. 273), “extreme” (Seymour, 2005, p. 310), “profound” (N. C. Ellis & Hooper, 2001, p.
589), and “particularly unnatural” (Snowling & Hulme, 2005, p.
xiv). These qualms, however, have been voiced in most cases as a
footnote to the voluminous English-language research literature.
In the current critique, I place the issue of generalizability at the
center of a detailed consideration of the repercussions of English
orthographic exceptionality for the scope and prioritization of
today’s reading research agenda, in general, and developmental
word reading research, in particular. I begin this critique with the
question: Is English really that exceptional?
585
the same dramatic differences are seen as in Seymour et al.’s
(2003) study (Frith et al., 1998; Landerl, Wimmer, & Frith, 1997;
Wimmer & Goswami, 1994). Even pseudowords that call only for
application of simple grapheme–phoneme correspondences reveal
the same decrements among English readers (Frith et al., 1998;
Landerl et al., 1997; Wimmer & Goswami, 1994). Frith et al.
(1998), for example, compared identical nonwords (e.g., twiwana)
in the two languages; at age 8 years, the incidence of errors among
English speakers was 30%, compared with only 0.5% for German
speakers. Each of the above methods for maximizing item comparability has its limitations (see discussion in N. C. Ellis et al.,
2004), yet the same pattern of findings emerges whichever approach is adopted. These data, therefore, do not appear to be an
artifact of methodology.
A highly innovative approach to matching items across languages was developed by N. C. Ellis and Hooper (2001). They
compared Welsh and English using frequency-matched lists compiled by sampling words from 100 successive strata of decreasing
written word frequency in each language, each successive item
representing a successively lower frequency 10,000 word band.
All other variables—such as length, syllable structure, meaningfulness, and so forth—were left free to vary. Oral reading accuracy
among English speakers/readers reached the 52% mark, compared
with 61% for Welsh. This indicates that the Welsh group (ages 6
and 7 years) were able to read twice as many words in their printed
language than were English readers. In their Welsh–English study,
Spencer and Hanley (2003) reported a similar outcome using
conventional item-matching methods (cognates and derived nonwords); hence, it appears that the extreme deviance of English is
robust across methodologies.
English: An “Outlier” Orthography
In the most ambitious cross-linguistic study of beginning reading launched to date, Seymour, Aro, and Erskine (2003) found that
most children from the 14 participating nations were reasonably
accurate and fluent decoders by the end of the 1st school year,
averaging 87% accuracy for familiar high-frequency words. The
English word-reading result, 34%, was over three standard deviations below the 14-nation mean (the 87% average included the
English figure) and far below the next poorest outcome—Danish
(71%). These dramatic differences do not appear attributable to
factors such as age, gender, syllable complexity, or letter knowledge. Perhaps even more astonishing were differences in the
nonword2 results, 29% accuracy for English compared with the
cross-national average of 82%. It is a telling observation that in
many analyses, the English data were treated as an outlier and
either excluded or analyzed separately. An important issue in
evaluating findings, such as those described above, is the commensurability of data based on samples drawn from different
cultures, from school systems with divergent curricula, and from
different sets of words.
Item Commensurability
One obvious challenge for any cross-linguistic study is to match
test stimuli on factors such as length, frequency, syllable structure,
and so forth. When test items are individually matched across
linguistic cousins, such as English and German, using cognates
(three/drei, garden/Garten) or even identical words (Land, Ball),
Subject Commensurability
N. C. Ellis and Hooper’s (2001) study, which is mentioned
above, matched their Welsh-medium and English-medium samples by catchment area, by classroom size, and by reading
curriculum and instructional time. Even after controlling for
these important instructional factors, the magnitude of the
between-languages differences again replicated Seymour et
al.’s (2003) data, with the English group performing only half
as well as the children learning the more regular Welsh orthography. Similar results were reported in Spencer and Hanley’s
(2003) Welsh–English study, in Landerl’s (2000) German–
English investigation, and Oney and Goldman’s (1984)
Turkish–English comparison, all of which matched groups on
reading program.
The most convincing evidence that sociocultural differences are
not responsible for the poor English outcomes comes from withinsubject bilingual comparisons. Geva and colleagues (Geva & Siegel, 2000; Geva, Wade-Woolley, & Shany, 1993) compared English and Hebrew reading performance in a large sample of native
English-speaking Canadian children who were learning highly
regular pointed Hebrew for 2–3 periods a day at an English–
Hebrew bilingual school. These children’s oral word reading ac2
The terms pseudoword and nonword are used interchangeably throughout this article to refer to invented (i.e., possible) word-like strings of
letters.
586
SHARE
curacy in Grade 1 far outstripped their own native English ability
despite limited oral L2 Hebrew proficiency. Even in Grade 5, word
recognition accuracy in L1 English was inferior to L2 Hebrew in
Grade 1.
Finally, additional support for the claim that orthographic inconsistency is the source of difficulty in English reading acquisition, rather than item or subject confounds, comes from comparisons between monolingual English speakers taught with a
regularized pedography, such as the initial teaching alphabet
(i.t.a.), or with conventional spelling (Downing, 1967; Thorstad,
1991). Thorstad (1991), for example, found that performance
decoding i.t.a. was superior to conventional (English) orthography
and similar to Italian readers matched for age and nonverbal
ability.
Although no individual study has controlled for all relevant item
and subject variables, the body of evidence, collectively, is unanimous in showing that, for the developing reader, English is truly
exceptional. By the end of the 1st year of schooling, hyperlexicstyle reading is the norm in transparent alphabetic orthographies;
most children are capable of tackling almost any printed (monosyllabic) word. In English, such proficiency is delayed for several
years. Moreover, this “great divide” between early English and
non-English reading appears to be more than quantitative and
clearly extends to the nature of the reading strategies employed.
English Orthography Is Abnormal Qualitatively and
Quantitatively
Among young readers, a variety of qualitative differences in
reading strategies has been discovered. Compared with English,
length and regularity effects are significantly greater in shallower
orthographies with a higher incidence of neologisms—mispronunciations resulting in nonwords (e.g., N. C. Ellis & Hooper, 2001;
Seymour et al., 2003; Spencer & Hanley, 2003). English readers,
in contrast, tend to make more real-word substitutions (termed
lexicalizations; e.g., shoe for school; N. C. Ellis & Hooper, 2001;
Frith et al., 1998; Geva & Siegel, 2000; Landerl et al., 1997;
Seymour et al., 2003; Spencer & Hanley, 2003; Thorstad, 1991;
Wimmer & Goswami, 1994), exhibit frequent nonresponses or
refusals (N. C. Ellis & Hooper, 2001; Seymour et al., 2003;
Spencer & Hanley, 2003), reduced word–nonword (lexicality)
effects (Landerl et al., 1997; Patel, Snowling, & de Jong, 2004;
Seymour et al., 2003; Wimmer & Goswami, 1994), and stronger
pseudohomophone effects (Goswami, Ziegler, Dalton, & Schneider, 2001). This latter finding indicates greater reliance on whole
word phonology in nonword reading.
Observations of the decoding process also underscore qualitative differences. Readers of shallow orthographies compared with
readers of English display more exhaustive (and often laborious)
letter-by-letter decoding (Landerl, 2000; Thaler, Ebner, Wimmer,
& Landerl, 2004; Thorstad, 1991), and this finding is supported by
eye-movement studies (e.g., Hutzler & Wimmer, 2004; Zoccolotti
et al., 1999) and brain imaging studies (e.g., Paulesu et al., 2000).
The reliability and persistence of these qualitative differences
even among skilled adult readers (a thorough review is beyond the
scope of the present article) have inspired several prominent theories concerned with the (different) reading processes invoked in
deep versus shallow orthographies (see Ziegler & Goswami’s,
2005, psycholinguistic grain-size theory, and the orthographic
depth hypothesis proposed by Katz & Frost, 1992, and Frost,
2005). Each of these theories bears witness to the fact that the early
quantitative and qualitative differences discussed above are not
transitory phenomena but leave developmental “footprints” (see
Ziegler & Goswami, 2005) across the entire reading lifespan.
Why Is English Unique Among Writing Systems?
Grammatologists agree that English underwent a series of unparalleled historical changes. First, Christian missionaries borrowed an orthography designed to represent far fewer than its
dozen or so vowels. English then absorbed successive waves of
invaders, conquerors, and borrowings before fossilizing spellings
at the advent of printing and on the threshold of the Great Vowel
Shift, yet repudiating almost all attempts at spelling reform. The
upshot of these successive upheavals is an amalgam of subsystems
of spelling (principally Germanic, Norman-French, and LatinGreek) that provide a splendid “fossil record” of the geopolitical
and cultural history of the English language (Carney, 1994; Crystal, 2003; Scragg, 1974). Unfortunately for the novice reader,
however, it strays unusually far from the one-letter-one-phoneme
mapping principle that is the norm among the world’s writing
systems (Daniels & Bright, 1996).3 In particular, the major source
of irregularity is the set of only five vowel letters (six if we include
y) representing about 20 vowel phonemes (letters representing
consonants are much less ambiguous). This mismatch between the
number of letters and the number of phonemes is reflected in the
fact that most proposals for spelling reform have called for increasing the number of letters or adding diacritics (see Carney,
1994, chapter 7; Scragg, 1974, chapter 6).
The history of English spelling reveals the source of this “bewildering variety” of spelling conventions (see Scragg, 1974, p.
60) but does not indicate the degree to which English differs from
other orthographies. Similar historical events have occurred in the
history of other orthographies; it is doubtful that any one of these
cultural/historical factors is unique to English (see, e.g., Elbro,
2006). The uniqueness of English may arise from the combination
and/or magnitude of these factors.
Reading researchers have yet to agree on a principled way of
determining precisely how English differs from other writing
systems. Attempts to characterize the complexity of English
spelling–sound relations reveal little convergence, differing with
regard to the appropriate orthographic unit of analysis (letter,
grapheme, onset/vowel/coda, or rime [vowel-plus-coda]), corpora
(e.g., monosyllabic vs. polysyllabic), quantification methods, and
more. Even the terms regular/irregular and consistent/inconsistent
commonly employed in the English-language reading literature
embody different processing assumptions regarding the psychological reality of the mapping relation. Only three studies (Borgwaldt, Hellwig, & de Groot, 2005; van den Bosch, Content, Daelemans, & de Gelder, 1994; Ziegler, Jacobs, & Stone, 1996) have
directly compared orthographies on a common metric.
Ziegler et al. (1996) tallied the number of monosyllabic words
(types) in which the spelling “body” (vowel nucleus and coda)
3
For a discussion of how the beginning reader copes with the challenges
posed by this complexity, see the discussion of the notion of lexicalization
in Share (1995, pp. 163–165; see also Elbro, 2006) as well as Glaser’s
(1984) concept of pedagogical theories.
ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
either does or does not map onto one and only one phonological
body (cf. -ack vs. -aid). English was found to be more “feedforward” (spelling-to-sound) inconsistent than French (31% vs. 12%).
Borgwaldt et al. (2005) compared word-initial letter-to-phoneme
consistency in several large corpora of monosyllabic and polysyllabic lemmas expressed as (continuous) entropy values in seven
European languages. Overall entropy values were highest in English, with an average of 3.89 phonemes per word-initial letter.
The next highest value (2.85) was French. Consonantal entropy
values in English were slightly lower than French and comparable
with German, whereas the value for vowels (as previously noted)
was almost twice that of the next most ambiguous script, German.
Van den Bosch et al. (1994) developed a two-dimensional
measure of orthographic complexity representing the intersection
of (1) the complexity of letter–phoneme alignment (graphemic
parsing) and (2) the complexity of grapheme–phoneme correspondence. Several automatic, language-independent, data-driven algorithms were trained on a subset of words from 20,000-word corpora (monosyllabic and polysyllabic) in each of three languages:
English, French, and Dutch. The algorithms were then tested for
generalization to the remainder of the corpus. In terms of
grapheme-to-phoneme mappings, English was shown to be the
most complex (i.e., irregular), by far, but somewhat less complex
than French and similar to Dutch in the complexity of graphemic
parsing. Given that neither linguists nor psychologists are able to
agree on the method of analysis (even within English), it is hardly
surprising that we lack a consensual cross-linguistic metric. Part of
the problem is that studies of spelling–sound consistency often
derive from very different research agendas.
To summarize, English presents a fascinating case study of
orthographic liberalism-turned-conservatism. Unfortunately, for
the cause of reading science it also represents the most extreme
case of spelling–sound complexity; on this latter point, there is no
dispute.
Dual-Route Theory and the Challenges of Irregularity
The distinction between words that conform to the rules of
English grapheme-to-phoneme correspondence (regular words and
nonwords) versus those that do not conform (irregular or exception
words) has been the main inspiration for the influential dual-route
model of skilled word reading (M. Coltheart, 1978, 2005; M.
Coltheart, Curtis, Atkins, & Haller, 1993; M. Coltheart, Rastle,
Perry, Langdon, & Ziegler, 2001) and its rivals (Harm & Seidenberg, 1999; Perry, Ziegler, & Zorzi, 2007; Plaut, McClelland,
Seidenberg, & Patterson, 1996; Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989;
Woollams, Ralph, Plaut, & Patterson, 2007; Zorzi, Houghton, &
Butterworth, 1998). The dual-route model has been acclaimed
“The most influential theory of visual word recognition” (G.
Lukatela & Turvey, 1998, pp. 1059 –1060), and it ranks as one of
the most prolific theories in modern cognitive psychology. The
dual-route model has not gone unchallenged (see, e.g., Glushko,
1979; Humphreys & Evett, 1985; Seidenberg & McClelland,
1989) but still enjoys virtual benchmark status in theorizing about
skilled word recognition (M. Coltheart, 2005; M. Coltheart et al.,
1993, 2001; Perry et al., 2007; Zorzi et al., 1998), reading development (e.g., Byrne, Freebody, & Gates, 1992; Jackson & Coltheart, 2001; Jorm & Share, 1983; Seymour, 2005), developmental
and acquired dyslexia (e.g., Castles & Coltheart, 1993; Manis,
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Seidenberg, Doi, McBride-Chang, & Petersen, 1996; Stanovich,
Siegel, & Gottardo, 1997), and even spelling (e.g., Barry, 1994;
A. W. Ellis & Young, 1988). Neuro-imaging work in the field of
word recognition has also been dominated by the dual-route approach (e.g., Jobard, Crivello, & Tzourio-Mazoyer, 2003; Price et
al., 2003).
The central axiom of the Coltheart/Baron version of the dualroute model (see, e.g., Baron, 1977; M. Coltheart, 1978) is that no
single procedure yields correct pronunciations of both nonwords
(e.g., slint) and exception words (e.g., pint). Nonwords can only be
correctly pronounced via grapheme–phoneme correspondence
rules (the “nonlexical” route); exception words require an additional procedure (the “lexical” route) because they cannot be
pronounced by the rules.
What we mean by the term dual-route model is a model that has a
route that can read words but cannot read nonwords and another route
that can read nonwords and regular words but misreads exception
words by regularizing them. (M. Coltheart et al., 1993, p. 590)
The dual-route model unequivocally rejects the connectionist
counterclaim (Plaut et al., 1996; Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989)
that the human reading system contains a single processing procedure that correctly pronounces both nonwords and exception
words.
Regular words can be read by either of the two routes; thus, the
nonword/exception-word contrast is decisive within the (Coltheart/
Baron) dual-route framework. The critical nonword/exception contrast lies at the heart of all but one of six questions that, according
to M. Coltheart et al. (1993), “any serious model might be expected to supply answers to” (p. 590). These included the following: “How do skilled readers read exception words? (Question 1);
how do skilled readers read nonwords? (Question 2); and how do
acquired and developmental exception/nonword dissociations
arise? (Questions 4, 5, and 6). The nonword/exception contrast was
also the foremost concern in setting parameters in the 2001 implementation of the dual-route model.
[T]he most delicate issue with the DRC [dual-route cascaded] model
is to try and set an appropriate balance between the two routes of the
model . . . What is needed is a set of parameters under which DRC
reads all exception words and all nonwords correctly. (M. Coltheart et
al., 2001, p. 219)
M. Coltheart et al. (2001) evaluated the model by comparing its
performance to standard effects obtained by skilled readers only
after parameter-setting enabled the model to read both members of
exception/nonword pairs, such as chef/starn.
The centrality of the nonword/exception contrast is also unmistakable in the principal counterclaim of the rival connectionist
approach:
A key feature of the model we propose is the assumption that there is
a single, uniform procedure for computing a phonological representation from an orthographic representation that is applicable to exception words and nonwords as well as regular words. (Seidenberg &
McClelland, 1989, p. 525)
The connectionist (or “triangle”) model developed by Seidenberg
and colleagues (Plaut et al., 1996; Seidenberg & McClelland,
1989) evolved largely as an alternative to the traditional Coltheart/
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588
Baron dual-route framework; thus, the same empirical legacy that
has dominated dual-route investigations (namely, the nonword/
exception contrast) has also pervaded much of connectionist
decision-making regarding architecture, implementation, and evaluation. Indeed, the crucial failing of Seidenberg and McClelland’s
(1989) first-generation model, and the principal motive for the
model’s first major overhaul, was its inability to successfully
pronounce nonwords while maintaining the ability to pronounce
both exception and regular words (see Besner, Twilley, McCann,
& Seergobin, 1990; Plaut et al., 1996). Only recently has the
Seidenberg group moved on to address issues (e.g., meaning
access; see Harm & Seidenberg, 2004) other than the oral pronunciation of isolated words differing in spelling–sound consistency.
When Irregularity Is the Exception
If a writing system contains no exception words, is a second
route necessary? Most orthographies are fairly regular in terms of
print-to-sound relations (Daniels & Bright, 1996; Seymour et al.,
2003); thus, a single rule-based mechanism should be adequate for
pronouncing all (or nearly all) letter strings. A growing number of
reading researchers have begun to question the generalizability of
the dual-route architecture beyond English (e.g., Bishop & Snowling, 2004; Hutzler & Wimmer, 2004; Ziegler & Goswami, 2005).
Ziegler and Goswami (2005), for example, ponder whether “it
might even be the case that the prominent dual route architecture
(i.e., two separate routes in the skilled reading system) may in fact
only develop for English” (p. 15). Even the dual-route theorists
themselves appear to share these misgivings in attempting to
extend the DRC model to German, a highly regular script:
[M.] Coltheart et al.’s (1993) major justification for a dual-route
architecture in English was the fact that neither a lexical nor a
nonlexical system alone seemed sufficient to explain both nonword
and exception word reading, as well as the double dissociation between surface and phonological dyslexia. However, if a major part of
German words (about 95% if loan words are excluded) can be pronounced correctly using a limited set of general rules, one might argue
that there is little need for a separate lexical system. (Ziegler, Perry,
& Coltheart, 2000, pp. 426 – 427)
If spelling–sound regularity is the global norm, then a second route
tailored specifically to irregular words is dispensable. A more
parsimonious one-route model would deal satisfactorily with
words and nonwords alike.
Ironically, these reservations about the lexical route, much like
the Anglocentric regular/irregular dichotomy in the dual-route
model itself, overlook a somewhat different, yet fundamental,
duality in word reading that applies to all words in all possible
orthographies regardless of their degree of “regularity.” On the one
hand, all words are visually unfamiliar at some point in reading
development; thus, the reader must possess some algorithm, albeit
imperfect, for independently identifying words encountered for the
first time (in context; see Share, 1995, for a more detailed discussion).4 On the other hand, the reader must eventually achieve a
high degree of automatization in word recognition—rapid and
effortless recognition of familiar words and morphemes (LaBerge
& Samuels, 1974; Logan, 1988, 1997; Perfetti, 1985) perceived as
whole units via a direct-retrieval mechanism (see Ans, Carbonnel,
& Valdois, 1998; Weekes, 1997). This ability to automatize or
“modularize” word identification (Adams, 1990; Stanovich, 1990,
2000), far more than the ability to derive the correct pronunciations
of words varying in spelling–sound consistency, is probably the
quintessence of reading skill (Perfetti, 1985). As with the decoding
algorithm, this high-speed, direct-retrieval mode applies to all
words in all orthographies, regular and exceptional.
This universal dualism merges the study of reading with the
study of human skill learning across a range of domains (see, e.g.,
J. R. Anderson, 1981; Karni, 1996; LaBerge & Brown, 1989;
Logan, 1988; Newell & Rosenbloom, 1981; Shiffrin & Schneider,
1977; Siegler, 1988). The dualism common to almost all skill
learning is a contrast between, or transition from, slow, deliberate,
step-by-step, unskilled performance to rapid, automatized, onestep or “holistic” skilled performance. Without this transition, the
“skill” of reading might never have influenced modern knowledgebased cultures so profoundly (D. R. Olson, 1994).
This basic and universal “novice-to-expert” dualism (from a
reader’s perspective) or “unfamiliar-to-familiar” dualism (from an
item-based perspective) also converges with the dual nature of an
efficient orthography. Specifically, an efficient script can be conceptualized as a compromise between the competing needs of the
novice and the expert reader (Rogers, 1995; Venezky, 2007). This
orthographic dualism might be termed the “decipherability/
automatizability” criterion.
An effective orthography must provide the reader with a means
for deciphering new words independently (see Share, 1995). This
applies to the young child new to the world of print and to the
skilled reader encountering a new or unfamiliar word. Furthermore, and this is crucial to skill learning in all domains, this
algorithmic process must lay foundations for rapid, direct-retrieval
mechanisms. This “do-it-yourself” or “self-teaching” function of
decoding (Jorm & Share, 1983; Share, 1995, 2008) is probably the
chief virtue of alphabetic scripts, supplying an economical means
for identifying new words (via print to sound translation) and
establishing the detailed orthographic representations on which
rapid, fully-unitized skilled word recognition is founded.
A successful script must also answer the needs of experts by
providing distinctive word-specific (or morpheme-specific)
visual– orthographic configurations required for unitizing and automatizing skilled word recognition. Ideally, each morpheme
should have one and only one representation (morpheme “constancy”) without showing morphophonemic variation (e.g., electric/electricity/electrician), with different morphemes represented
4
In no alphabetic orthography has it proven feasible to teach learners
more than a modest fraction of new words’ pronunciations (or meanings)
purely by rote whole-word methods (for discussion, see Share, 1995)—
there are simply too many words. This is probably the main reason no pure
logography has ever existed or, indeed, could ever exist (Gelb, 1952;
Mattingly, 1985). Even in Chinese, characters that directly represent meanings constitute only a tiny fraction of the Chinese character corpus (Taylor
& Taylor, 1995). The overwhelming majority of Chinese words are represented by compounds containing elements indicating meaning (the radical) and sound (phonetic). Even when taught without the support of
supplementary alphabetic scripts, such as pinyin, the combination of semantic and phonetic information appears to be highly productive for the
novice (see R. C. Anderson, Li, Ku, Shu, & Wu, 2003; Cheung et al., 2006;
Shu, Anderson, & Wu, 2000).
ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
differently (morpheme “distinctiveness”; Rogers, 1995).5 Historically, the morphemic principle, essential for automatizability, has
taken precedence over the competing decipherability principle
(Daniels & Bright, 1996; Perfetti, 2003; Venezky, 2007; but see
Serbo-Croatian; K. Lukatela, Carello, Shankweiler, & Liberman,
1995). Word separation may also be a crucial factor in the unitization/automatization process (Saenger, 1991).
A script that caters primarily to the needs of skilled readers, such
as precommunist Chinese characters (and in many respects English
orthography; see Chomsky & Halle, 1968), will pose enormous
challenges for novices. Conversely, a script that provides maximum decipherability for novices—the highly regular pedographies, such as i.t.a., Korean hangul, or Japanese kana—will often
fail (as a stand-alone script) to meet the needs of skilled readers,
primarily owing to homophony.6
Recognizing the divergent decipherability/automatizability
needs of learners and experts, some scripts have dual versions.
Among these are the pointed (fully voweled) and unpointed (incompletely voweled) variants of Hebrew (Ravid, 2006), Arabic
(Abu-Rabia & Taha, 2006), and Farsi (Baluch & Besner, 1991),
and the fully biscriptal systems in China ( pinyin/characters),
Korea (hangul/hancha), and Japan (Kanji/kana). In these languages, separate phonemic (or syllabic/moraic) and morphemic
orthographies fulfill the two decipherability/automatizability functions.
Where Are the Jabberwockies?
It is important to emphasize that, unlike the standard contrast
between different types of items (regular/irregular, exception/
nonword, or word/nonword) on which the Coltheart/Baron dualroute conception was founded, the unfamiliar-to-familiar dualism
advanced here is not a between-items contrast differentiating familiar words on the one hand and unfamiliar on the other (or
high-frequency vs. low-frequency words). It is, first and foremost,
a within-item developmental transition from unfamiliar to familiar
(hence the phrasing “unfamiliar-to-familiar” rather than
“unfamiliar-and-familiar”). This broad dualism underscores the
fact that every printed word is unfamiliar at some point in development (even an individual’s own name) and calls for the application of some sort of decoding/learning algorithm. That is, every
letter string is functionally a nonword at first. The Czech string Šer
(my own surname) was functionally an unfamiliar pseudoword
until quite recently. Many real but rare words, such as thegn and
veldt (along with some 4,000 other low-frequency items excluded
by Kessler & Treiman, 2001, in their corpus of monosyllabic
words deemed to be familiar to skilled adult readers), are functionally nonwords for the vast majority of readers. Conversely, any
pseudoword, like any real word that has yet to be encountered in
print, may become a familiar, well-unitized letter string. A
pseudoword, such as Jabberwocky, will be familiar to many literate English speakers/readers (pseudowords are a common everyday occurrence in personal and place names, [e.g., Clinton, London], commercial brand names [e.g., Colgate, Toyota], children’s
verse, etc.). Indeed, for the author, Jabberwocky has been familiar
for much longer than Šer or thegn. Thus, this unfamiliar/familiar
dualism applies to all words in all possible orthographies (neither
regularity/consistency nor lexicality is an issue here). A reading
589
architecture in which distinct routes or routines are dedicated to
specific types of items misses this overarching dualism entirely.
A Dual-Route Duel . . . and Rout
In keeping with this broad, universal dualism, the earliest formulations of the dual-route model focused on the unfamiliar/
familiar distinction, ignoring the regularity dimension. In his brief
chronicle of dual-route history, M. Coltheart has credited Saussure
(1922) with the first articulation of a dual-route conception of
reading: “We read in two ways; the new or unknown word is
scanned letter after letter, but a common word is taken in at a
glance” (M. Coltheart, 2005, p. 6). The focus here is clearly on the
familiarity dimension.
One of the first modern cognitivist formulations of the dualroute notion (Forster & Chambers, 1973) adopted this same approach. Forster and Chambers (1973) discussed two alternative
ways to pronounce printed words:
First, the pronunciation could be computed by application of a set of
grapheme–phoneme rules, or letter-sound correspondence rules. This
coding can be carried out independently of any consideration of the
meaning or familiarity of the letter sequence . . . Alternatively, the
pronunciation may be determined by searching long-term memory for
stored information about how to pronounce familiar letter sequences,
obtaining the necessary information by a direct dictionary look-up,
instead of rule application. Obviously, this procedure would work
only for familiar words. (p. 627)
Once again, the key dualism here, is familiarity, not regularity.
Accordingly, Forster and Chambers (1973) focused their experimental manipulations on familiarity (operationalized via printed
word frequency), comparing words with nonwords and highfrequency with low-frequency words. Both high-frequency (e.g.,
knee, winter) and low-frequency (e.g., dank, ostler) items included
5
There are clearly advantages for a script that maintains morpheme
“constancy”—the same morpheme always written the same way— but it
may be morpheme distinctiveness that is crucial for the automatization of
word recognition. In other words, it is not that the w in two is important for
revealing morphemic relationships (e.g., twelve, twice, twilight)—a highly
doubtful assumption for the young reader— but that this etymological quirk
provides unique spellings for potentially confusable homophones (too/two/
to). (Historically, conscious efforts were often made by spelling reformers
to avoid homophones becoming homographs and thereby remove possible
ambiguity (Carney, 1994, chapter 7; Scragg, 1974, chapter 4).
6
Purely phonemic scripts (such as pinyin and Zhu-Yin-Fu-Hao) as well
as syllabic/moraic scripts (such as Japanese kana) appear to be remarkably
easy to learn to decode (e.g., Mason, Anderson, Omura, Uchida, & Imai,
1989; McCarthy, 1995; Taylor & Taylor, 1995), but if extensive homophony exists in the spoken language, such scripts will violate the morphemic
distinctiveness principle and prove impracticable without supplementary
morpheme-based characters (as in the case of Japanese Kanji and Korean
Hancha) that provide more direct links to morpheme identity. By the same
token, i.t.a. was never destined to supplant conventional English orthography because it ignores the morphemic principle. Conversely, primarily
morphemic scripts—such as Chinese characters that are well-adapted to
serving the literacy needs of a small highly educated elite but require the
novice to invest extraordinary amounts of time and effort (Hoosain, 1995;
Taylor & Taylor, 1995)—are far more accessible to the novice (and the
general populace) when supplemented by decipherable phonemic scripts,
such as pinyin (Siok & Fletcher, 2001; Taylor & Taylor, 1995).
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a mixture of both “regular” and “exception” words. Regularity was
not an independent variable nor was it even mentioned in their
article.
As M. Coltheart (2005) observed, an emphasis on known and
unknown words focuses attention on familiarity. Hence, the main
contrast is between words that, according to the dual-route model,
can be read by a direct-retrieval (or “lexical” routine) and nonwords that cannot be retrieved directly and therefore depend on a
nonlexical procedure. According to M. Coltheart (2005), “Baron
and Strawson (1976) were the first to see that, within the context
of dual-route models, this is not quite the right contrast (at least for
English) [italics added]” (p. 7). Baron and Strawson sought evidence for rule use when skilled readers pronounced words aloud.
Hence, their experimental manipulations focused on words that
varied in degree of rule accessibility. They compared (a) “regular”
words, which follow the “rules” of English orthography, (b) “exception” words, which break these rules, and (c) “nonsense”
words, which can only be pronounced by the rules (p. 387). In
contrast to Forster and Chambers (1973), regularity was the key
experimental variable in Baron and Strawson’s investigation, with
familiarity relegated to the status of a potential confound and held
constant. However, many words (in English) are regular and
accessible to the rules; thus, the contrast between words and
nonwords is no longer adequate within the “regularity/irregularity”
dual-route orientation. It becomes necessary to distinguish between regular and irregular words, the latter items becoming
indispensable and familiarity (and frequency) superfluous. Neither
familiarity nor frequency was a variable in Baron and Strawson’s
study.
The Coltheart/Baron dual-route conception shifted focus from
the original and universal familiarity-oriented dualism to the peculiarly Anglophone regular/irregular dualism and (unwittingly)
promoted a particularistic English-language research agenda. This
was at the expense of a dualism better adapted to serve the broad
interests of reading science in which, orthographically speaking,
irregularity is the exception to the rule.
Preoccupation with the problems of spelling–sound infidelity
has affected the reading research outlook both theoretically and
empirically. Attention has been diverted to a variety of empirical
and methodological issues with limited applicability to a universal
reading science. These are discussed below beginning with the
issue of accuracy versus fluency.
Accuracy and Fluency in Early Reading
Given the prevalence of English spelling–sound irregularity, the
challenge of deriving an accurate, or at least approximate pronunciation, is understandably a pressing concern for readers who are
confronted with an unfamiliar letter string. If the new item is not
correctly identified, the entire word-learning process is derailed.
Young readers continually encounter large numbers of unfamiliar
words (Foorman, Francis, Davidson, Harm, & Griffin, 2004). For
readers of English, many of these items will be irregular (Foorman
et al., 2004).
Developmental reading research in the English language has,
until recently, been dominated by measures of accuracy rather than
speed or fluency. Accuracy, however, is largely a nonissue for the
majority of the world’s (alphabetic) orthographies in which performance levels approach ceiling by the end of Grade 1 (Seymour
et al., 2003). When accuracy asymptotes quickly, speed and fluency become the discriminating measures of developmental and
individual differences (Breznitz, 1997; Cossu, 1999; de Jong &
van der Leij, 2003; Leppanen, Niemi, Aunola, & Nurmi, 2006;
Lyytinen, Aro, & Holopainen, 2004; Nikolopoulos, Goulandris,
Hulme, & Snowling, 2006; Wimmer, 1993; Yap & van der Leij,
1993; Zoccolotti et al., 1999), as is the case for skilled readers of
English for whom error rates are often uninformative. To illustrate
just how irrelevant accuracy can be in regular orthographies,
consider Cossu’s (1999) report that reading performance in Italian
reached 97.8% in a large normative survey sample in Grade 1,
increasing by Grade 3 to 99.6%. Mean reading speed, in contrast,
decreased from 3.5 s per word in Grade 1 to 2.1 s by Grade 3. In
German (Wimmer, 1993), Dutch (Yap & van der Leij, 1993),
Norwegian (Lundberg & Hoien, 1990), Italian (Zoccolotti et al.,
1999), Greek (Porpodas, 2006), Finish (Lyytinen et al., 2004),
Hungarian (Csepe, 2006), and Hebrew (Breznitz, 1997), even
dyslexics attain high levels of reading accuracy but remain slow.
Standard assessments of word reading ability in English are
typically accuracy based (e.g., Wide Ranging Achievement Test:
Jastak & Jastak, 1984; Woodcock–Johnson–III: Woodcock,
McGrew, & Mathers, 2000; Burt Word Reading Test: Gilmore,
Croft, & Reid, 1981) with a graded list of words discontinued after
a fixed number of errors. In regular orthographies, standard reading measures focus on fluency (e.g., Dutch One-Minute-Test: Brus
& Voeten, 1979; Swedish Wordchains Test: Jacobson, 1993).
The Anglophone preoccupation with irregularity and the problems of reading accuracy may be responsible for the lack of
progress on issues of speed and fluency. The single most salient
and universal fact about skilled word identification is the remarkable speed and apparent effortlessness of word identification. Yet
issues such as reading rate, efficiency, automaticity, and fluency
have languished at the periphery of contemporary reading research
until recently (see, e.g., Breznitz, 2006; Compton & Carlisle, 1994;
Dowhower, 1991; Logan, 1988, 1997; Torgesen, 2002) and have
been neglected in classroom instruction (see, e.g., Adams, 1990;
Allington, 1983; J. R. Anderson, 1981; Fuchs, Fuchs, Hosp, &
Jenkins, 2001; National Reading Panel, 2000; Zutell & Rasinski,
1991). The range and diversity of definitions and theoretical accounts briefly surveyed in the following section reveal a research
field still in its infancy—a field, moreover, that should surely be
pivotal to any theory of skilled reading and its acquisition.
Reading Rate, Efficiency, Automaticity, and Fluency
The speed and automaticity of sublexical and lexical processes
have special significance in reading owing to the multitask demands of text comprehension and the bottlenecks created when
basic word recognition processes are slow and labored (e.g., Baddeley & Gathercole, 1992; Just & Carpenter, 1987; Kintsch, 1988;
LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Oakhill, 1993; Perfetti, 1985; Swanson
& Siegel, 2001). Limitations of human attention and memory are
omnipresent in models of text comprehension (e.g., Just & Carpenter, 1987; Kintsch, 1988; Perfetti, Landi, & Oakhill, 2005).
Sheer speed or rate seems a relatively straightforward construct
to measure (but see Carver, 1990) but is meaningless if accuracy
is ignored. In certain contexts, speed is associated with haste
(Carver, 1990; Frith, 1980; Hendriks & Kolk, 1997; Leinonen et
al., 2001; R. K. Olson, Kliegl, Davidson, & Foltz, 1985) or with an
ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
impulsive, nonreflective cognitive style (Kagan, Rosman, Day,
Albert, & Phillips, 1964; R. K. Olson et al., 1985; Share, Jorm,
Maclean, & Matthews, 1984). The concept of “efficiency,” speed
adjusted for accuracy (Breznitz, 2002, 2006; Nathan & Stanovich,
1991; Perfetti, 1985; Torgesen, 2002), however, introduces a range
of measurement obstacles (discussed below) that have yet to be
resolved. These problems are not insuperable when accuracy is at
ceiling levels, as is the norm in most conventional orthographies,
but English’s spelling–sound intractability poses a real dilemma.
The problems really begin, however, when we consider the critical
automaticity element that is integral to most definitions of fluency.
The general concept of automaticity is widely employed in
psychology; however, there is little agreement on how to define it
(Humphreys, 1985; Kahneman & Triesman, 1984; Logan, 1985;
Moors & de Houwer, 2006; Stanovich, 1990). Part of the problem
is that the construct is typically operationalized in complex dualtask or priming paradigms that suffer from numerous methodological and interpretational difficulties (Bargh & Chartrand, 2000;
Holender, 1986; Howe & Rabinowitz, 1989; Navon & Gopher,
1980; Stanovich, 1990). In a recent review, Moors and de Houwer
(2006) noted that “there is no consensus about what automaticity
means” (p. 297). Stanovich (1990) has proposed replacing the
troubled notion of automaticity with the concepts of modularity
and information encapsulation. Logan’s (1988, 1997) instancebased notion of automaticity and allied multitrace theories of
reading (see, e.g., Ans et al., 1998) have yet to find their way into
mainstream reading science.
The term fluency derives from the Latin fluere—meaning
“flowing”—and clearly implies more than speed and effortlessness. A news reader aims for fluency, not speed (only commercials
place a premium on both rate and fluency of delivery). Accordingly, one class of fluency definitions emphasizes smooth and
unbroken oral text reading operationalized as the number of
pauses, hesitations, and repetitions in oral reading (e.g., Pinnell et
al., 1995; Saiegh-Haddad, 2003; Zutell & Rasinki, 1991).7 However, a smooth, unhesitant oral rendering of a written text also falls
short of the mark because it lacks the essential element of phrasing
and expression manifest in variability in rhythm, juncture, pitch,
stress, and duration. Some definitions of fluency regard prosody as
an essential, if not the essential ingredient in fluency (e.g., Dowhower, 1991; Schreiber, 1991; Zutell & Rasinski, 1991). Stayter
and Allington (1991) have gone further with a definition reminiscent of the classical arts of elocution and rhetoric. They have
emphasized intonation, juncture, stress, and, above all, emotional
expression, using dramatization to assess fluency. Although some
prosody-oriented definitions retain criteria involving word recognition accuracy and rate (e.g., Dowhower, 1991; National Reading
Panel, 2000), others jettison word-level elements altogether
(Schreiber, 1991; Stayter & Allington, 1991). Wolf and KatzirCohen (2001) have proposed an all-inclusive definition: “[A] level
of accuracy and rate where decoding is relatively effortless; where
oral reading is smooth and accurate with correct prosody; and
where attention can be allocated to comprehension” (p. 219). In a
candid admission, the authors arrived at the “unsettling conclusion
. . . that reading fluency involves every process and subskill involved in reading” (p. 220). Yet another quandary in defining
fluency is whether, or how, prosody-based definitions apply to
silent reading.
591
Another class of definitions is explicitly multidimensional (e.g.,
Bear, 1991; Berninger, Abbott, Billingsley, & Nagy, 2002; Katzir
et al., 2006; Wood, Flowers, & Grigorenko, 2002). Berninger et al.
(2002), for example, held that fluency operates differently at the
word, sentence, and text levels. Katzir et al. (2006) draw a developmental distinction between fluency at the level of letters, of
words, and of connected text. Bear (1991) separates word-level
fluency from phrase-level fluency, whereas Wood et al. (2002)
postulate an anticipatory fluency defined as preprocessing of upcoming stimuli in addition to fast and automatic recognition of
letters, words, and phrases. Such componential approaches imply
that readers may be fluent in some aspects of reading but not in
others.
Sorely lacking is a comprehensive, empirical inquiry aimed at
determining whether the multitude of features associated with the
term “fluency” tap a common construct or separable abilities and,
if so, at which levels. It is instructive to compare this state of
affairs with the phonological awareness literature, which— owing
to its status near the top of the Anglophone research agenda—
boasts numerous studies of this type, both longitudinal and crosssectional (e.g., Anthony & Lonigan, 2004; Carroll, Snowling,
Hulme, & Stevenson, 2003; Hoien, Lundberg, Stanovich, &
Bjaalid, 1995; Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte, 1994; Yopp, 1988).
Theories regarding the mechanisms underlying fluency are as
bountiful as the definitions surveyed above. Wood et al. (2002)
speculate on links between their two hypothesized components of
fluency and cytoarchitectural (pyramidal/granular, ventral/
dorsomedial) and neurochemical (dopaminergic vs. noradrenergic)
cortical subsystems, and genetic loci (Chromosome 1 vs. 6).
Berninger et al. (2002) propose associations between their tripartite model (speed, automaticity, and executive functioning) and
distinct brain loci (cerebellum, striatum, and left frontal region).
Breznitz (2006) claims that fluency represents the synchronization
of several brain-related processes (principally visual– orthographic
and auditory–linguistic), each operating according to different
processing and timing constraints.
At the cognitive/behavioral level of explanation, Torgesen
(2002) argues that the size of a child’s sight vocabulary is the key
determinant of text reading rate and is largely dependent on
reading volume. Bear (1991) also sees orthographic knowledge as
central to the development of word-level fluency. Berninger et al.
(2002) propose that morphological knowledge is critical to the
development of word reading fluency, whereas Schreiber (1991)
and Dowhower (1991) view syntax as crucial.
The debate over rapid automatized naming (RAN). The controversy over the role of RAN in early reading (see, e.g., Chiappe,
Stringer, Siegel, & Stanovich, 2002; Katzir, Kim, Wolf, Morris, &
Lovett, in press; Manis & Freedman, 2002; Savage & Frederikson,
2005; Vellutino et al., 2004; Vukovic & Siegel, 2006; Wolf &
7
It is worth remarking that the “naturalness” often ascribed to fluent oral
reading, defined in this way, is actually quite foreign to everyday speech,
which is peppered with hesitations, fillers (um, er), and repetitions (Perera,
1984). It is for this reason that scripted material presented on television,
radio, or in the theatre is immediately recognized as “staged.” It would be
more accurate to describe fluent oral reading as a specialty genre of written
language uniquely adapted to fulfill certain performative/evaluative functions.
592
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Bowers, 1999) also seems to be muddled with accuracy versus
speed/fluency issues. Any speeded measure should correlate more
strongly with timed or rate-dependent measures of reading than
simple untimed accuracy. Because the developmental literature in
English is so heavily weighted toward accuracy rather than fluency, with the reverse true of more consistent orthographies, RAN
should emerge as a strong predictor of reading (rate/fluency) in
regular orthographies. This would partly explain the stronger association between RAN and reading in more regular orthographies—such as German (Wimmer, 1993) and Dutch (de Jong &
van der Leij, 1999, 2003)—relative to English, and the weaker
association with phonological awareness, which is usually an
untimed measure. This “method” account of differential patterns of
association can be extended to English. While children are in the
(prolonged) learning-the-code phase (up to Grade 3), accuracy is
the focus of ability differences; thus, RAN should be a poor
predictor of word-recognition performance. After children have
acquired the complex spelling–sound code, speed and fluency
come to the fore; thus, RAN should be a significant predictor.
More generally, if any two variables, such as speed and accuracy,
are imperfectly correlated, there will necessarily be “double dissociations” with a “double-deficit” group, a “no-deficit” group,
and two smaller “single-deficit” groups. A speeded measure, such
as RAN, compared with a nonspeeded measure, is likely to tap
speed/accuracy dissociations. It remains to be seen to what extent
the classic dual-route distinction between phonological and surface
dyslexia, a purely accuracy-based dichotomy, relates to accuracy/
speed differences, particularly in the case of more conventional
(i.e., consistent) orthographies.
Does Fluency Invariably Flow From Practice?
Not only is there little consensus regarding the nature and
definition of fluency but there are several lines of evidence that
appear to impeach the belief that fluency and automaticity develop
as a natural consequence of practice after word identification
accuracy has been attained (Carver, 1990; Chall, 1983; LaBerge &
Samuels, 1974; Nathan & Stanovich, 1991; National Reading
Panel, 2000). First, “compensated” adult English-speaking dyslexics, many of whom have successful records in advanced academic
(college and university) studies, are slow effortful word readers
despite high levels of reading accuracy. Clearly, years of constant
practice have not proven sufficient for attaining speed and fluency
(see, e.g., Bruck, 1990; Lefly & Pennington, 1991; Shaywitz et al.,
2003). Childhood dyslexia in consistent orthographies (e.g., German, Italian, Greek, Norwegian, and Hebrew) reveals the same
pattern of high accuracy but slow, dysfluent reading (Hagtvet &
Lyster, 2003; Porpodas, 2006; Share & Shalev, 2004; Wimmer,
1993). van der Leij and van Daal (1999), for example, found that
Dutch childhood dyslexics are slower than normal readers even
when accurately reading highly familiar words. Second, in the
remediation of reading disability, successful training of phonological awareness and decoding brings accuracy and (word) comprehension gains but not fluency gains (see reviews by Lyon & Moats,
1997; M. S. Meyer & Felton, 1999; Torgesen, 2005). Thaler et al.
(2004) have shown that young German dyslexics with high reading
accuracy have persistent slowness that is largely resistant to
change even after massive practice (see also de Jong & Vrielink,
2004). Finally, Breznitz (2006) has demonstrated that modest
individualized acceleration of reading rate causes increases in both
reading accuracy and comprehension among dyslexics and normal
readers. The fact that Breznitz’s data generalize to normal readers
is especially troublesome for the conventional view of speed and
fluency as “dependent” variables. Similarly, Lurie and Share
(2007) found that, among normal third-grade readers of highly
regular pointed Hebrew, the formation of accurate orthographic
representations for new words depended on decoding accuracy and
decoding fluency (see also Share, 2004). Wood et al. (2002) have
also suggested that fluency training need not be delayed until after
accuracy is attained.
Viewed within the context of the unfamiliar-to-unfamiliar/
novice-to-expert framework discussed earlier, training phonological skills and decoding accuracy should influence the algorithmic/
analytic aspects of initial word learning (deciphering) but may not
be sufficient for attaining automatization in fluent skilled reading.
Models that regard well-specified representations as the key to
fluent orthographically-based word recognition—such as Ehri
(1992), Perfetti (1992), and Share (1995)—may be illuminating
only one piece of a more complex puzzle in the novice-to-expert
transition.
Unresolved Measurement Issues
The problem of oral reading inaccuracy that continues to preoccupy English-language researchers has impeded progress on
fluency-related issues in another way. Substantial inaccuracy introduces obstacles in the measurement of speed and latency. When
individual item responses are measured, it is conventional to
discard reaction times for incorrect responses. Thus, valid reaction
times are based on nonidentical sets of stimuli that may differ in
uncontrolled ways. One solution would be to examine only those
items on which all, or nearly all, subjects perform errorlessly. This,
however, might leave a very restricted range of items. Alternatively, the data for incorrect responses can be treated as missing,
and these scores can be estimated. Neither solution is without its
problems.
As regards list-based assessments of fluency, graded word lists
are standard fare for English investigations of reading ability.
These lists are typically graded for length and “difficulty,” often
beginning with short, high-frequency words that become progressively longer and less common. This is also the format of many
popular tests of isolated word recognition (e.g., Wide Ranging
Achievement Test, Woodcock–Johnson–III, and Burt Word Reading Test) and text-reading (e.g., Gray Oral Reading Test– 4: Wiederholt & Bryant, 2001; Neale Analysis of Reading Ability—
Revised: Neale, 1997). Raw reading rate uncorrected for errors,
however, will be confounded with difficulty; easier material is read
faster. If fluency is assessed as the number of items correctly read
in a given time interval (see Brus & Voeten, 1979), this “words(correct)-per-minute” measure (assuming a graded list) is likely to
differ significantly both within ability levels at a given age and
across developmental levels. This dilemma calls for solutions such
as maintaining uniformity of item difficulty, repeated “cycles” of
difficulty gradation within the list (each cycle consisting of just a
few items; see Shatil & Share, 2003), or conversion to a common
metric (such as syllables per minute, ems, letters, etc.). Alternatively, reading rates can be examined at predetermined levels of
accuracy.
ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
It is also standard practice to measure vocalization onset latency
in the English-language literature, but, in regular orthographies, a
case can be made (see, e.g., Landerl et al., 1997; Naslund &
Schneider, 1996; Thaler et al., 2004) for using voice offset, especially for inexperienced or disabled readers whose (oral) reading is
characterized by laborious sequential decoding (Ziegler & Goswami, 2005). Bowey and Muller (2005) have also argued against
voice onset times among unskilled readers of English for similar
reasons. In list reading contexts (e.g., Frith et al., 1998), false
starts, self-corrections, and hesitations may seriously confound
speed differences when accuracy levels are below ceiling. Again,
in a regular orthography with high accuracy, measuring listreading fluency is a manageable problem. In English, however,
this problem can be acute.
A child who reads 50 words—all correctly in 1 min—is assigned a fluency score of 50 (words-per-minute or wpm). A second
child who reads the same 50 words in 1 min but makes 10 errors
is reading at the same (raw) rate but is assigned a score of 40 wpm.
The only difference between these two readers, however, is accuracy. Similarly, a child who reads 60 words in 1 min with 10 errors
also gains a score of 50 wpm. It is clear that substantial variability
in rate and accuracy can yield fluency or efficiency scores that
mask important accuracy and rate discrepancies. These considerations, furthermore, apply to any metric that combines accuracy
and rate into a single fluency measure.
These complications are not overwhelming in studies involving
regular orthographies but may be insurmountable in outlier English. In English, measuring fluency (or “efficiency”) by combining accuracy and rate is like conflating height and weight by
referring to people as “big” or “little.” Like accuracy and speed,
weight and height are correlated imperfectly—tall people are usually heavier than short people, but is a tall and thin individual
“bigger” than a short and stout individual (who might weigh
more)? A growing number of reading disability theorists have
called for a separation between rate and accuracy difficulties
among disabled readers (Berninger et al., 2002; Lovett, 1987; Wolf
& Katzir-Cohen, 2001). Depending on the size of the correlation,
two imperfectly correlated measures will, by definition, result in
four different profiles: (1) fast and accurate readers (the most
proficient), (2) slow and inaccurate readers (the poorest readers)—
together making up a majority of the sample if the correlation is
greater than zero, (3) fast-inaccurate readers, and (4) slow-accurate
readers. The size of the latter two groups (ranging between 0% and
25% of the sample) will be inversely proportional to the magnitude
of the speed/accuracy relation.
The Role of Reading Accuracy in Definitions of Reading
Disability
Definitions of dyslexia in the English-speaking world have
traditionally been operationalized using measures of accuracy,
specifically oral reading accuracy. In a special issue of the Journal
of Learning Disabilities devoted to definitions of learning disability, two of the leading North American dyslexia authorities, Siegel
(1999) and Stanovich (1999), proposed that reading disability be
assessed on the basis of word and/or pseudoword reading. In both
cases, only measures of oral reading accuracy were stipulated. As
Lyon et al. (2005) have protested,
593
[R]eading fluency is rarely assessed in current identification procedures . . . . Slow-reading students who score within the average range
on both the untimed reading measures and the IQ test will typically be
denied services because there is no discrepancy— even though they
also have a disability that requires specialized services and/or accommodations. (p. 267)
The British Psychological Society (1999) was the first Englishspeaking organization to include fluency in the definition of dyslexia (see also Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003). Interestingly,
the British borrowed their definition from the Dutch (GersonsWolfenberger & Ruijssenaars, 1997), which— being a more regular orthography— emphasizes fluency and automaticity rather
than accuracy.
Timed tests of word and pseudoword reading speed and accuracy are standard practice in non-English dyslexia research (e.g., in
German: Wimmer, Mayringer, & Raberger, 1999); in French:
Bosse, Tainturier, & Valdois, 2007; in Norwegian: Fagerheim et
al., 1999; in Italian: Facoetti et al., 2006; in Hebrew: Breznitz,
1997). The preference for accuracy-based definitions in English
and fluency-based definitions among non-English researchers creates additional barriers for cross-linguistic comparisons in this
field.
English Spelling–Sound Ambiguity and the “Wait-to-Fail”
Model of Reading Disability
English spelling–sound ambiguity also plays a role in the
fiercely debated IQ-discrepancy definition of dyslexia. This definition is founded on the gap between attainment in reading and
aptitude as measured by IQ tests (Lyon et al., 2005; Share, McGee,
McKenzie, Williams, & Silva, 1987; Siegel, 1989; Stanovich,
1991; Stuebing et al., 2002). As already noted, the complexity of
English spelling–sound relations leads to a considerably longer
period of code learning than occurs in consistent orthographies,
extending over about 3 years of schooling (Chall, 1983/1996;
Harlaar, Dale, & Plomin, 2007; Seymour et al., 2003; Singer,
1978).
It is probably not until the fourth grade that most children
acquire the requisite word recognition skills to enable them to
successfully read any material they can comprehend through listening. In Jeanne Chall’s (1983/1996) terms, it is at this point that
most students progress from “learning to read” to “reading to
learn” (Shankweiler & Fowler, 2004, p. 498). Many educational
practices have been founded on the assumption of a 3-year
learning-to-read phase. The establishment of remedial reading
centers in Britain to which children are not referred until 9 years of
age was predicated on the belief that it was premature to diagnose
and remediate reading failure before reading (primarily phonics)
instruction had run its course (Collins, 1961). Similarly, the IQdiscrepancy model, still enshrined in U.S. Federal law, requires a
severe discrepancy that is not normally evident until around 3
years after children enter school (Fletcher et al., 2002; Lyon et al.,
2005). This leads to what Lyon et al. (2005) term a wait-to-fail
model: “Measurement practices . . . are biased against the identification of children before age nine” (p. 263). “Because achievement failure sufficient to produce a discrepancy from IQ cannot be
reliably measured until a child reaches approximately 9 years of
age, the use of IQ-discrepancy constitutes a ‘wait-to-fail’ model”
SHARE
594
(Lyon et al., 2005, p. 266) militating against early identification
and intervention. The alignment of the 3-year delay with the
Anglophone learning-to-read triennium, a product largely of English spelling–sound complexity, may not be coincidental. Sadly,
the efficacy of remediation is severely curtailed after nine years of
age (Lyon et al., 2005).
Oral Decoding
The goal of word reading is access to meaning (Rayner et al.,
2001). Silent understanding rather than oral reading is the literacy
benchmark in knowledge-based societies (Lundberg, 1994;
Torgesen, 2005). Of course, oral recitation has an essential role in
both secular and religious ceremony and in reading aloud to
preliterate children. Nonetheless, both ontogenetically (Edfeldt,
1960; Kragler, 1995; Levin, 1979; Wright, Sherman, & Jones,
2004) and historically (Manguel, 1996; McLuhan, 1962; Saenger,
1982; Venezky, 1984), reading aloud (typically in dyadic or communal settings) is superseded by the more efficient mode of silent
and private reading.
English-language reading research, however, is dominated by
measures of oral rather than silent reading. Computational modeling of skilled word reading focuses almost exclusively on reading
aloud (M. Coltheart et al., 1993, 2001; Perry et al., 2007; Plaut et
al., 1996; Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989; Zorzi et al., 1998).
Tests of the ability to read aloud a graded list of words (or
pseudowords) are benchmark measures of English word identification. Oral word-reading instruments are the primary criteria
recommended by leading reading disability theorists for the definition and diagnosis of reading disability (British Psychological
Society, 1999; Siegel, 1999; Stanovich, 1999). Oral miscue analysis (Goodman, 1973) and New Zealand’s running records (Clay,
1979), all oral measures, are standard assessment tools in their
respective traditions. Ironically, even the contemporary Englishlanguage literature on reading disability subtypes is based almost
exclusively on the naming of various types of items. Unsurprisingly, these are pseudowords and exception words (see, e.g.,
Castles & Coltheart, 1993; Harm & Seidenberg, 1999; Manis et al.,
1996; Stanovich et al., 1997). Remarkably, some of the leading
theoretical work on the development of reading comprehension
skill has been based on an oral reading measure: the Neale Analysis of Reading Ability (Nation, 2005; Oakhill, 1993).
This partiality toward oral reading in English-language reading
research is not surprising given the magnitude of the word identification problems posed by English spelling–sound ambiguity:
The simplest way of verifying the accuracy of word identification
is, of course, reading aloud. I am not suggesting that the bias
toward oral reading is solely the product of English spelling–sound
ambiguity; oral measures have the virtue of simplicity, and precision in oral recitation has, historically, been accorded greater
importance than understanding. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable
to assume that the unique word identification problems in English
have predisposed English-language reading science toward pronunciation accuracy as the yardstick of word identification.
Reading aloud, however, does not necessarily involve access to
meaning—the goal of word reading (see, e.g., Baron, 1977; M.
Coltheart, 1978). Ironically, the two cofounders of the regularityoriented dual-route approach (Coltheart and Baron) initially dis-
qualified the very task that has served as the mainstay in developing and testing the dual-route model and its subsequent competitors. Writing in 1978, M. Coltheart observed that
A wide variety of information-processing tasks has been used over the
past decade for investigating this [lexical access] and other aspects of
reading. The suitability of many of these tasks for investigating lexical
access can, however, be questioned. Some tasks can be criticized
because they do not necessarily involve lexical access . . .. Examples
of the first kind of task are . . .. reading aloud. (p. 170)
Baron (1977) also pointed out that
There are certain tasks that clearly do not qualify as measures of
extracting meaning. Among these tasks are the pronunciation tasks I
have been discussing up to now . . . . and lexical decision tasks . . .
While these tasks might involve the use of meaning, they do not
require it. (p. 180)
Rayner and Pollatsek (1989) expressed similar doubts about the
validity of oral text-reading measures. They drew attention to the
fact that the eye is typically several words ahead of the voice:
It is entirely likely that the words produced by the speech mechanism
in oral reading are strongly influenced by processes occurring after the
lexicon has been accessed, and thus the resulting data may say little
about how the lexicon is initially contacted to arrive at the meaning of
a given word. (p. 181)
Another concern is that the pronunciation of the written word
appears to depend on exhaustive and well-specified phonological
representations of the type that may not fully correspond to the
phonological representations required for nonoral word recognition and meaning access (see Berent & Perfetti, 1995; Frost, 1998).
Oral reading rates are typically slower than silent reading rates
(Barker, Torgesen, & Wagner, 1992; Carver, 1990, chapter 14; de
Jong & Share, 2007; Levin, 1979), consistent with the idea that
silent reading involves less exhaustive phonological processing
than oral reading.
The possibility that oral and nonoral reading rely on representations that differ in completeness is bolstered by the fact that
representations in written language are usually the maximally
distinct, “careful” or “formal” forms, as opposed to the more
abbreviated “informal” or “vernacular” forms that typify running
speech (Elbro, 1996; Fromkin & Rodman, 1974; Lundberg, 1994).
A correct “careful” pronunciation of the printed word and has
three phonemes, but in day-to-day speech, the final /d/ is often
elided (as are most word-final stops), and the initial vowel is
reduced to a schwa (some authors represent this colloquial form
with the spelling ‘n). This phonological “reduction” applies to
most words (although the term “augmentation” might be more apt
if we consider that, developmentally, speech forms precede written
forms). Thus, the “correct” pronunciation of the printed word,
especially when presented in isolation, frequently diverges from
the reduced (or “unaugmented”), but more familiar, vernacular
form. It is, therefore, a misnomer to speak of the pronunciation of
a word; word pronunciation is a family of spoken forms that varies
according to pragmatics, speech rate, and dialect. In this sense,
ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
learning to read is also learning new speech variants.8 In view of
the phonological distance between spoken and written forms, oral
reading, especially of isolated words, may depend on knowledge
of the formal (literate) augmented form, whereas the everyday
unaugmented form may be sufficient for meaning access during
silent reading.9
The foregoing considerations suggest that oral and nonoral
reading modes have much in common but are unlikely to invoke
identical cognitive processes. If so, then the dependence on oral
reading in current reading research may yield an incomplete picture of the nature of word reading. Unfortunately, little empirical
data bear on this issue. Numerous studies in the earlier part of the
20th century (for reviews, see Carver, 1990, chapter 14; Levin,
1979, chapter 4) directly compared oral and silent (text) reading,
but postwar cognitive psychology (with rare exceptions, such as
Barker et al., 1992; Juel & Holmes, 1981) lost interest in this issue.
Although very few studies have directly compared oral and
silent reading, indirect evidence converges on the conclusion that
oral and nonoral modes have both common and unique features.
To the extent that naming and lexical decision data tap the oral/
nonoral issue, studies have repeatedly demonstrated consistent
differences between naming and lexical decision as regards the
influence of phonology. Regularity effects, at least for lowfrequency words, are ubiquitous in naming (e.g., Andrews, 1982;
Baron & Strawson, 1976; Weekes, 1997) but not in lexical decision (e.g., Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989; Seidenberg, Waters,
Barnes, & Tannenhaus, 1984). These effects are not idiosyncratic
to English but apply to regular orthographies as well. For example,
in Hebrew, word pointing (the addition of vowel diacritics) and
phonological ambiguity affect latencies in naming but not in
lexical decision (Bentin, Bargai, & Katz, 1984; Frost, 1995; Koriat, 1984). Length effects, especially for pseudowords, are found
in naming but not in lexical decision tasks (Ferrand & New, 2003;
Frederiksen & Kroll, 1976; Valdois et al., 2006; Weekes, 1997).
Frequency effects, in contrast, are stronger in lexical decision than
in naming (e.g., Balota & Chumbley, 1984; Forster & Chambers,
1973; Frederiksen & Kroll, 1976; McCann & Besner, 1987; Scarborough, Cortese, & Scarborough, 1977).
Many studies have demonstrated pervasive effects of phonology, even in silent reading tasks and among skilled adult readers
(see, e.g., V. Coltheart, Patterson, & Leahy, 1994; Folk, 1999;
Frost, 1998; Miellet & Sparrow, 2004; Perfetti, Bell, & Delaney,
1988; Perfetti & McCutchen, 1982; Pollatsek, Rayner, & Lee,
2000; Tzeng, Hung, & Wang, 1977; Van Orden, 1987; but see Van
Orden & Kloos, 2005); however, phonology has a reduced role in
silent reading (or at least in lexical decision) relative to oral
reading. Given the reservations expressed by many theorists as to
the ecological validity of both naming and lexical decision tasks
(e.g., Baron, 1977; M. Coltheart, 1978; Rayner et al., 2001; Rayner
& Pollatsek, 1989; Seidenberg, 1985), it is reassuring that the
pattern of phonological attenuation in silent lexical decision concurs with findings from studies examining the reading of connected text. For example, Juel and Holmes (1981) found stronger
effects of regularity and syllable length in oral sentence reading
compared with silent reading among children, particularly among
poor readers. Similarly, Barker et al. (1992) found that both oral
pseudoword repetition and phoneme deletion correlated more
strongly with oral text reading rate than with silent text reading
rate among third graders.
595
Consistent with the natural variability of phonological forms in
general, and the phonological distance between speech and writing
in particular, the experimental data suggest that overt naming
involves more thorough phonological analysis and/or more completely specified representations than nonoral word identification.
Moreover, overt naming may involve less attention to orthographic
structure or to meaning than silent reading (Corcos & Willows,
1993).
Another line of evidence indicating that overt pronunciation
may provide only a monochrome picture of the word reading
process comes from case studies of skilled readers with relatively
poor word and pseudoword naming (e.g., Campbell & Butterworth, 1985; Holmes, 1996; Stothard, Snowling, & Hulme, 1996).
Holmes (1996), for example, reported the case of KQ, a highly
literate university student with very poor oral reading of words and
pseudowords but whose performance in lexical decision and spelling choice tasks was virtually perfect. Lexical decision times for
the very same pseudowords that KQ was unable to read aloud were
faster than any control subject, and silent reading comprehension
was excellent. It is worth remarking that such “discrepant” readers
are not particularly rare (see Jackson & Doellinger, 2002; Shankweiler et al., 1999). Furthermore, in many of these cases, proficient
(silent) reading comprehension cannot be attributed to superior
verbal ability or verbal memory (Jackson & Doellinger, 2002).
Studies of individuals with severe speech and/or hearing impairments also affirm the separability of oral and nonoral modes of
reading. The congenitally deaf population as a whole has generally
low levels of reading comprehension skill (Conrad, 1979; Wauters,
van Bon, & Tellings, 2006); however, a substantial minority of
profoundly deaf readers possesses excellent silent word recognition skills despite nonexistent oral decoding (e.g., Burden &
Campbell, 1994; Hanson, 1986; Miller, 2004; Wauters et al.,
2006). In the case of selective speech impairment, Foley and
Pollatsek (1999) found that substantial numbers of dysarthric and
anarthric individuals scored in the normal range on silent reading
comprehension (see also Cossu, 1999). Patterson, Graham, and
Hodges (1994) have also reported cases of dementia patients with
poor performance on tasks such as picture naming and category
fluency, but who were only slightly impaired on tasks requiring no
speech output, such as word-picture matching.
Yet another “special” group, dyslexics are well known for their
relative dissociation between (silent) orthographic strengths and
(oral) phonological weaknesses (e.g., Rack, Snowling, & Olson,
1992; Share, 1995; Siegel, Share, & Geva, 1995; Stanovich &
Siegel, 1994). Dyslexics typically demonstrate deficits relative to
reading-age controls in pseudoword reading, but they perform
comparably or better than controls on orthographic processing.
8
Extreme cases of divergence between spoken and written phonological
forms (i.e., “diglossia”)—such as Arabic (Ferguson, 1959) or Kannada
(Karanth, 2006)—merely represent the extreme point on a spoken/written
continuum. The fact that oral reading accuracy is uncorrelated with reading
comprehension in Arabic clearly underlines this divergence (Abu-Rabia,
2001; Saiegh-Haddad, 2003; see also R. C. Anderson et al., 2003).
9
The “phonological processes” used by normal infants, as yet unable to
produce adult speech, to simplify adult speech (Ingram, 1976; Khan &
Lewis, 1986) and also by adults in informal conversational speech may be
a fruitful avenue for the investigation of oral/silent differences in phonology.
596
SHARE
Some dyslexics are even able to attain orthographic skills comparable with chronological age-matched normal readers in a second
language (Bekebrede, van der Leij, & Share, in press; van der Leij
& Morfidi, 2006). In addition, Stanovich and Siegel (1994) found
that dyslexics have more severe difficulties with pseudoword tasks
requiring overt pronunciation than with pseudoword tasks requiring only implicit decoding, such as R. K. Olson et al.’s (1985)
phonological judgment task (see also Leinonen et al., 2001). Similarly, Share, Jorm, Matthews, and Maclean (1988) found that
naming was relatively easier than lexical decision for normal
second-grade readers but not for disabled readers.
The oral/nonoral dissociations discussed above have all involved cases in which oral reading is more severely impaired than
nonoral reading. However, there is also evidence pointing to true
double dissociation. In a study of normally developing third graders learning Hebrew, Canaan and Share (2007) used a semantic
categorization task to assess silent word reading (children were
required to circle all pseudohomophones that named foods in a list
of 100 items) and a naming task to assess oral reading (reading
aloud these same pseudohomophones). The correlation between
naming times (accuracy was at ceiling levels) and categorization
was .61, indicating that less than half of the variance was shared.
A similar correlation coefficient was obtained when the same list
of words used in the semantic judgment task, but conventionally
spelled, was read aloud (Share, unpublished data, 2006). The oral
task, furthermore, was more strongly correlated with phonological
abilities than the silent task, whereas the silent task was more
closely tied to orthographic and morphological knowledge. A
subgroup of poor (oral) decoders who were good (silent) word
readers were characterized by good semantic, orthographic, and
morphological knowledge but poor phonological skills. A second
group with normal pseudoword decoding, but poor silent word
reading, revealed the inverse profile: good phonological skills, but
poor semantic, orthographic, and morphological knowledge. Similarly, Bekebrede et al. (in press) partitioned a group of Dutch
adolescent dyslexics into two subgroups on the basis of (L2)
English orthographic knowledge and found that the subgroup with
superior orthographic skills (both groups displayed poor phonological skills) was significantly better at silent (Dutch) word identification than the other subgroup, but the subgroups did not differ
on oral word reading fluency.
Yet another line of evidence highlighting oral/silent disparities
derives from neuropsychological and neuroimaging evidence suggesting that the primary substrate of sound-based representations
of speech (the superior temporal cortex) interfaces in taskdependent ways with other systems (Poeppel, 2001). Poeppel
(2001) summarized several articles indicating that the auditory–
motor/articulatory interface and the lexical–semantic interface occupy distinct brain pathways.
Levin’s (1979) review sums up the oral/silent issue succinctly:
“There are enough similarities [between oral and silent reading] to
warrant attention to oral reading, although the two modes are
different enough to suggest caution in extrapolating from one to
the other” (pp. 37–38). It follows that a research literature skewed
toward oral reading may provide an incomplete picture of the
reading process. The English-language focus on oral reading, like
accuracy, may overestimate the role of phonological variables in
word reading, underestimate the role of other nonphonological
factors, and deflect research attention from less tractable, yet more
crucial, issues (such as silent reading and meaning access).
Phonological Awareness
Awareness of the phonological units represented by a given
writing system is positively correlated with reading ability in every
language studied to date (National Reading Panel, 2000).10 This
affirms a universal phonological axiom regarding writing; orthographies must represent units of spoken language. Whether these
units are syllables, morae, subsyllabic units, or phonemes will
depend on the particular language (Goswami, 1999; Mattingly,
1985).
The awareness of phonemes and the acquisition of alphabetic
literacy does not appear to be an integral part of humans’ biological preparedness for rapid early spoken language acquisition, but,
in the words of Bowey (2005), is “inextricably linked” to learning
to read an alphabetic orthography (p. 168). Moreover, as an integral component of alphabetic literacy learning, phonemic awareness is closely tied to the particular orthography concerned, the
nature of the units represented, and the fidelity of the spelling–
sound mapping. Thus, the lack of consistency in English should
exacerbate difficulties in acquiring phonemic awareness. It is now
clear that the scale of this problem in English does not generalize
to more regular orthographies and that the unique role of phonemic
awareness in English has hindered consideration of more universal
aspects of phonology that apply across orthographies. Phonemic
awareness is a core component of learning to read in every possible
alphabetic orthography; however, the extreme degree of nontransparency in English has exaggerated the role that phonemic awareness plays in more conventional alphabets and has overshadowed
issues that have critical importance across orthographies.
Phonemic Awareness and Orthographic Transparency
Several lines of evidence converge to indicate that phonemic
awareness constitutes an integral part of alphabetic reading acquisition dependent on the experience of learning to read an alphabetic script (see, e.g., Bertelson & de Gelder, 1989; Burgess &
Lonigan, 1998; Castles & Coltheart, 2004; de Santos Loureiro et
al., 2004; Ehri, 1979; Holopainen, Ahonen, & Lyytinen, 2001;
I. Y. Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989; K. Lukatela et
al., 1995; Morais, Alegria, & Content, 1987; Perfetti, Beck, Bell,
& Hughes, 1987; Shankweiler & Fowler, 2004) and on the architecture and transparency of that specific script (e.g., Burgess &
Lonigan, 1998; K. Lukatela et al., 1995; Mann & Wimmer, 2002;
Share & Blum, 2005; Tolchinsky & Tebersky, 1998). A more
detailed exposition of the script-dependent claim can be found in
Share (1995), but two points are pertinent here. First, several
studies have shown that both adult illiterates who are intellectually
and linguistically competent (Bertelson, de Gelder, Tfouni, &
Morais, 1989; de Santos Loureiro et al., 2004; K. Lukatela et al.,
1995; Morais, Cary, Alegria, & Bertelson, 1979; Scholes & Willis,
1987) and individuals literate only in nonalphabetic scripts (Mann,
1986; Prakash, 2003; Read, Zhang, Nie, & Ding, 1986) have poor
10
This apparently extends to Chinese too (see, e.g., Ho & Bryant, 1997;
Huang & Hanley, 1995; Siok & Fletcher, 2001; So & Siegel, 1997).
ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
awareness of phonemes. This demonstrates that sensitivity to phonemic segments does not arise spontaneously outside the context
of learning to read an alphabetic script (Bertelson et al., 1989;
Morais & Kolinsky, 2005). Second, the largest performance gains
on tests of phonemic awareness occur during the 1st year of
alphabetic reading instruction, largely irrespective of age (e.g.,
Barron, 1991; Bentin, Hammer, & Cahan, 1991; Calfee, Lindamood, & Lindamood, 1973; Cardoso-Martins, 1991; Carrillo,
1994; de Jong & van der Leij, 1999; Duncan, Cole, Seymour, &
Magnan, 2006; Hanley, Tzeng, & Huang, 1999; I. Y. Liberman,
Shankweiler, Fischer, & Carter, 1974; Mann & Wimmer, 2002;
Morais, Content, Bertelson, Cary, & Kolinsky, 1988; Torgesen et
al., 1989). Most preliterate preschoolers are unable to access
phonemes (Bowey, 2000, 2005; Carrillo, 1994; Cossu, Shankweiler, Liberman, Katz, & Tola, 1988; I. Y. Liberman et al., 1974;
Oney & Durgunoglu, 1997; Share & Blum, 2005; Share & Gur,
1999). Method of instruction is also influential. Code-emphasis
instruction accelerates the development of phonemic awareness to
a greater extent than whole-word instruction (e.g., Adams, 1990;
Alegria, Pignot, & Morais, 1982; Caravolas & Bruck, 1993; Carrillo, 1994; McBride-Chang, Bialystok, Chong, & Li, 2004; Perfetti et al., 1987).
Collectively, the data from both illiterate and preliterate samples
indicate that most children develop an awareness of phonemes as
they learn about letters and the alphabetic mapping principle in the
course of formal reading instruction. The influence of the particular alphabetic code is also apparent in that English speakers will
often insist that there are more sounds in the word pitch than the
word rich (Ehri & Wilce, 1983; Treiman & Kessler, 2003; Tunmer
& Nesdale, 1985). Conversely, Scholes (1995) reported that university undergraduates are more successful at phoneme deletion
when sounds are represented unambiguously in spelling (e.g., raft
without /f/ is rat) than when sounds are not uniquely represented
by a single letter (e.g., mixed without /k/ ⫽ mist). “[L]earning to
read is learning to hear speech in a new way” (D. R. Olson, 1994,
p. 85).
In summary, the available evidence indicates that phonemic
awareness is best categorized as a reading subskill, not as a
universal and emergent linguistic capability (Share, 1995). An
alphabetic script is, first and foremost (although not solely), a
phonemic code or “blueprint”—a graphic dissection of the segmental structure of spoken words. Phonemic awareness and letter
knowledge have been labeled corequisites to alphabetic literacy
(Share, 1995) or codeterminants (Bowey, 2005). Ehri and Soffer’s
(1999) term graphophonemic awareness aptly captures the inseparability of the two. Attempts to disentangle phoneme awareness
and orthographic knowledge in the quest for ever “cleaner” studies
of phonemic awareness unconfounded by letter knowledge are
consequently misconceived.
If we accept the view that phonemic awareness is script dependent, then it follows that the clarity of this phonemic blueprint
should affect the development of phonemic awareness. A transparent code with consistent one-to-one letter-sound relations
should promote access to phonemes, whereas opacity should impede it.11 The data generally support this prediction.
In phonemically transparent orthographies, phonemic awareness
is acquired more rapidly and easily than in less transparent orthographies (e.g., in German: Mann & Wimmer, 2002; in Dutch: de
Jong & van der Leij, 1999; in Hungarian: Csepe, 2006; in Czech:
597
Caravolas & Bruck, 1993; in Italian: Cossu et al., 1988; in Welsh:
Spencer & Hanley, 2003; in Turkish: Oney & Durgunoglu, 1997;
in Finnish: Holopainen et al., 2001; in Greek: Nikolopoulos et al.,
2006; and in Hebrew: Geva et al., 1993). For example, in their
study of phonemic awareness among first-grade Canadian
English–Hebrew bilinguals, Geva et al. (1993) obtained a correlation of .62 for English but only .32 for Hebrew (correlations for
pseudoword reading and phonemic awareness reproduced this
disparity: .68 vs. .39, respectively). Almost identical figures were
found in two longitudinal investigations with large monolingual
samples of English-speaking (Australian) and Hebrew-speaking
(Israeli) children (Share et al., 1984; Shatil & Share, 2003). To the
extent that pseudoword spelling reflects phonemic analysis, several cross-linguistic studies of spelling acquisition (see Caravolas,
2006, for a review) provide additional support for an attenuated
reading-phonemic awareness relation in more transparent orthographies. Even dyslexics are relatively successful at phoneme manipulation in regular orthographies, at least according to accuracy
criteria (e.g., de Jong & van der Leij, 1999; Wesseling & Reitsma,
2000; Wimmer, 1993; Wimmer & Goswami, 1994).
Concerns regarding the perils of cross-language comparisons,
such as item and subject incommensurability, cannot be dismissed
entirely, as discussed earlier in the article. Again, however, those
few studies that have compared well-matched subjects from the
same culture (e.g., Spencer & Hanley, 2003) or different languages
in the same sample of bilingual children (Geva et al., 1993) have
confirmed a weaker reading–phonemic awareness relation in orthographies that are more transparent than English.
Functional Opacity and the Timing Hypothesis
The strength of the phonemic awareness–reading association
appears to depend on when (and how) these abilities are assessed
(see de Jong & van der Leij, 1999, 2002; Share & Levin, 1999;
Wimmer, 1993) and on the functional opacity of the spelling–
sound code for readers of a given developmental level. In a study
of Hebrew phonemic awareness, Bentin and Leshem (1993) found
a correlation of .33 between phonemic awareness and Hebrew
decoding at the end of Grade 1. This figure converges with the
coefficients cited above for voweled Hebrew at the same developmental point by Geva et al. (1993) and Shatil and Share (2003).
Significantly, the correlation was .55 midway through Grade 1,
when most children have yet to be introduced to all the Hebrew
letter–sound correspondences. This is very similar to the figure
typically reported at the end of Grade 1 for English. Bentin and
Leshem’s data suggest that phonemic awareness is maximally
influential when code learning is incomplete; that is, even a transparent script is functionally opaque when a child has learned some,
but not all, of the spelling–sound mappings.
In a longitudinal study of the relation between phonemic awareness and word reading accuracy in Latvian—another highly regular orthography—Sprugevica, Paunina, and Hoien (2006) found
11
Orthographic transparency is, of course, not the only factor accounting for cross-linguistic differences. Other factors include phonological
structure, timing (stress-timed vs. syllable-timed), and number of syllables
(see, e.g., Caravolas & Bruck, 1993; Cheung, Chen, Lai, Wong, & Hills,
2001; Cossu et al., 1988; Duncan et al., 2006; Huang & Hanley, 1995;
Saiegh-Haddad, 2003; Share & Blum, 2005).
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that a composite measure of phoneme segmentation and phoneme
deletion accounted for 27% of the variance in reading accuracy in
December of first grade, 9% at the end of Grade 1, but nothing by
mid-Grade 2. In a follow-up regression analysis controlling for
kindergarten word reading (the autoregressive effect), kindergarten
phoneme awareness accounted for significant unique variance in
reading in the middle, but not at the end, of Grade 1. The same
developmental pattern seen in the Hebrew and Latvian data has
also emerged in another two highly regular orthographies: Turkish
(Oney & Durgunoglu, 1997) and Finnish (Leppanen et al., 2006).
In Dutch, an orthography characterized by intermediate transparency (Borgwaldt et al., 2005; Bosman, de Graaff, & Gijsel, 2006),
de Jong and van der Leij (1999, 2002) found that phonemic
awareness–reading correlations declined after the end of Grade 1.
They concluded that, unlike English, “the importance of phonological abilities for learning to read appeared to be limited to the
1st year of reading instruction” (p. 467). Similarly, Wesseling and
Reitsma (2000) found that Dutch phoneme awareness (assessed
using a blending task) was a stronger predictor early in Grade 1,
when children had been taught around three quarters of the simple
grapheme–phoneme correspondences, than at the end of Grade 1,
when letter–sound knowledge approached ceiling.
The developmental decline in correlations between phonemic
awareness and reading is a consistent finding in transparent orthographies and contrasts sharply with the correlations in English,
which remain robust across age (Calfee et al., 1973; Deacon &
Kirby, 2004; Rosner & Simon, 1971; Swanson, Trainin, Necoechea, & Hammill, 2003; Wagner et al., 1997; but see Kirby,
Parrila, & Pfeiffer, 2003). Even English-speaking adults with
reading disability have poor awareness of phonemes (e.g., Bruck,
1992; Chiappe et al., 2002; Felton, Naylor, & Wood, 1990). This
developmental invariance in English suggests that English remains
functionally opaque at all levels of reading ability.
Although some studies (Nikolopoulos et al., 2006; Spencer &
Hanley, 2003) have reported strong phonemic awareness–reading
correlations beyond Grade 1 in highly regular orthographies, the
preponderance of evidence favors the functional opacity hypothesis. If correct, this account of the phonemic awareness–reading
relation leads to a novel hypothesis: The primary function of
phonemic awareness may be to clean up “noisy” decoding approximations by providing well-specified phonemic templates that
make it possible to bridge the gap between imperfect decoding
attempts and target pronunciations. This “clean-up” or “filter”
hypothesis emphasizes a probabilistic, as opposed to deterministic,
view of spelling-to-sound conversion consistent with the earlier
discussion of phonological form as a family of speech variants.12
In summary, phonemic awareness is likely to be equally important in consistent and inconsistent orthographies but at different
phases in development. The normally brief developmental timescale in transparent orthographies is unusually protracted in English, perhaps indefinitely. Thus, the importance of phonemic
awareness is inflated relative to its more time-limited role in
conventional orthographies.
Minimalist Versus Maximalist Views of Phonology
Contemporary discussion of the role of phonology in reading
acquisition is dominated by what might be termed a narrow or
“minimalist” view of phonology in which “phonology” is inter-
preted as synonymous with phonological awareness (see, e.g.,
Wolf & Bowers, 1999). Substantial variance in reading ability,
however, is attributable to a range of difficulties in processing
speech-based information. These difficulties pervade perception,
learning, and memory and are manifest in a wide variety of tasks
(for reviews, see Beaton, 2004; Brady, 1997; Elbro, 1996; Frith,
1997; Jorm & Share, 1983; Kamhi & Catts, 1989; Shankweiler &
Liberman, 1989; Share, 1995; Shaywitz, 1996; Snowling, 2000;
Stanovich, 1988; Vellutino et al., 2004; Wagner & Torgesen,
1987). “Although problems with phonemic awareness are a hallmark of reading disability, they are only one manifestation of
broader deficits in processing phonological information that are
typically seen in poor readers” (Shankweiler & Fowler, 2004, p.
503).
Basic phonological processing abilities, unlike phonemic awareness, are inherent in humans’ prewired language learning capacities. Although these abilities are by no means immutable, they all
develop prior to the onset of literacy, even from earliest infancy
(see, e.g., Boets, Woiters, van Wieringer, & Ghesquiere, 2007;
Guttorm, Lepannen, Richardson, & Lyytinen, 2001; Molfese,
2000; van Leeuwen et al., 2006). These longitudinal/predictive
findings furnish crucial evidence for causality (although, of course,
less decisive than experimental training data) and critical information for educators seeking early (intrinsic) warning signs that do
not primarily originate in environmental deprivation.
The ongoing controversy over the causal status of phonemic
awareness (Bertelson, 1993; Castles & Coltheart, 2004; Coles,
2000; Cossu, 1999; Hulme, Snowling, Caravolas, & Carroll, 2005;
Scholes, 1998; Stuart, 1998; Ziegler & Goswami, 2005), which has
monopolized so much of the phonology debate, has weakened and
divided the field. If phonology is equated with phonemic awareness alone, and the latter is coeval with alphabetic literacy learning, then the well-known phonological deficit explanation of reading difficulties becomes vulnerable to charges of circularity (see,
e.g., Nicolson, 1996; Tonnessen, 1997). Furthermore, the scriptdependent and teaching-dependent nature of phonemic awareness
has helped tie this literature to the debate over phonics instruction
and thus embroiled the field in the vitriolic reading wars (Coles,
2000; R. Meyer, 2002; Scholes, 1998; Stuart, 1998). Basic phonological processes, in contrast to phonemic awareness, are far less
vulnerable to these charges. Moreover, the case for phonology on
both sides of the literacy divide (i.e., before and after the onset of
schooling) and the significance of the crucial experimental training
studies in phonemic awareness are considerably bolstered by acknowledging the connection between basic (preliterate) phonological abilities and (peri-literate) phonemic awareness (Baddeley,
12
This applies even to regular words as pointed out several decades ago
by the Haskins group (I. Y. Liberman, 1973) in their discussion of the
difficulties decoding and blending even simple CVC letter strings, such as
bag (see also M. Coltheart, 1978). To arrive at the monosyllable /bæg/,
after sounding out three elements, /bə/, /æ/, and /gə/, the reader must first
perform phoneme elision—the irrelevant but unavoidable schwa sound that
accompanies the initial and final stops /b/ and /g/ prior to blending. For an
illustration of this problem, see K. Lukatela et al.’s (1995) report of
semiliterate Serbo-Croatian women who could sound out words of up to
three letters but who were unable to blend the elements into an integrated
pronunciation.
ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
1986; de Jong & Olson, 2004; Fowler, 1991; Goswami, 2002;
Metsala & Walley, 1998; Share, 1994).
A second casualty of an overly Anglocentric perspective on
phonemic awareness is the almost exclusive focus on accuracy, yet
another factor serving to deflect attention from the issue of speed
and fluency in reading development. With rare exceptions (e.g.,
Good, Simmons, & Kame’enui, 2001; Patel et al., 2004), assessment of phonemic awareness, much like the Anglophone assessment of decoding and reading ability, has been almost exclusively
accuracy oriented—the debate preoccupied with issues of task
validity, unit size, and timing. Thus, the English phonemic awareness literature, too, has had a share in promoting an accuracyfixated literature.
The emphasis on phonemic awareness can be regarded as another manifestation of the extreme decipherability problem of
English orthography. An orthography that poses extraordinary
challenges for the novice will lead to a reading research agenda
focused on acquisition-related issues, as discussed above. Many
issues relating to the transition to expert performance will be
neglected.
Additional Anglocentricities in Reading Science
In the remaining section, I briefly survey several issues that have
been focal in English-language reading research but have questionable relevance for more regular orthographies or have been
overlooked entirely.
Stage Models of Reading Development
Models of word reading acquisition developed by Englishlanguage researchers almost invariably include one or more
phases, or stages, in which the novice reader is unable to exploit all
the grapheme–phoneme (or higher order orthography–phonology)
information available in a printed word, relying instead either on
partial letter–sound cues (often in conjunction with contextual
cues) or on purely global visual information, such as word length
and envelope, or salient visual (nonphonological) features of selected letters. The best-known terms for these stages or strategies
are partial alphabetic (Ehri, 1995) and logographic (Frith, 1985),
respectively. One or both appear in almost every English-language
model of early reading development (e.g., Ehri, 1995; Frith, 1985;
Gough & Hillinger, 1980; Harris & Coltheart, 1986; Marsh, Friedman, Welch, & Desberg, 1981; Morton, 1989; Rack, Hulme,
Snowling, & Wightman, 1994; Stuart & Coltheart, 1988). Doubts,
however, have been raised about the applicability of these stages to
other languages and orthographies.
Landerl (2000) observed evidence for partial alphabetic strategies (twenty for twelve) among English first graders but not among
matched German readers. In a French longitudinal study from
early kindergarten to the end of Grade 1, Sprenger-Charolles and
Bonnet (1996) found no trace, at any of the four time points
examined, of logographic reading, operationalized as reliance on
global word form (i.e., length), nonsequentiality of processing, and
the use of salient visual cues. Wimmer and Hummer (1990)
operationalized logographic reading in their study of Germanspeaking children in Austria as (a) a failure to read pseudowords
despite comparatively successful reading of familiar words and (b)
nonattempts when reading unfamiliar words or production of real
599
words visually similar to the target string (lexicalizations). In their
comparison of specifically reading-delayed and normally developing first-grade readers who had received 8 months of reading
instruction, Wimmer and Hummer found little evidence for logographic strategies. Both groups relied heavily on alphabetic reading strategies. Wimmer and Hummer were, however, able to
induce partial alphabetic reading by presenting words briefly for
1 s. Under these conditions, responses revealed partial decoding of
initial letters followed by guessing after the word was removed
from view. The authors did not discount the possibility that some
German-speaking children may identify certain words, chiefly
nonalphabetic logos, logographically prior to school entry. Wimmer and Hummer also noted that the Austrian preschool curriculum explicitly discourages exposure to printed words and letter
learning, whereas children are immersed in a highly transparent
orthography taught via phonics methods at school. Austrian children appear to progress rapidly from nonreading to fully fledged
alphabetic reading with little need to develop strategies of the
logographic/partial-alphabetic variety (see also Mann & Wimmer,
2002). Similar conclusions have been drawn from studies conducted in German (Mannhaupt, Jansen, & Marx, 1997), in Italian
(Job & Reda, 1996, as cited in Job, Peressotti, & Mulatti, 2006), in
Greek (Porpodas, 2006), and in Kannada (Karanth, 2006).
Logographic and partial alphabetic stages appear to be largely
an English-language peculiarity, a product of an unusually protracted period of early reading development jointly attributable to
encouragement of early literacy during the preschool years followed by a prolonged period of code learning. However, both
logographic and partial-alphabetic phenomena have also been reported in regular orthographies (Cardoso-Martins, 2001; Share &
Gur, 1999). Cardoso-Martins (2001) found evidence of partial
alphabetic reading among beginning readers of Portuguese taught
via a whole-word method but not among a comparable group
receiving phonics instruction. Share and Gur (1999) found evidence of logographic and partial-alphabetic (“phonetic-cue”) reading among Israeli kindergarten children who had not yet been
exposed to formal reading instruction, but no evidence of either
partial alphabetic or logographic reading has been reported among
first graders in Israel.13
The functional opacity argument developed earlier in regard to
the phonemic awareness–reading relation can be applied to these
findings as well. When children begin reading in Grade 1, or in a
preformal context, they have an incomplete mastery of the
spelling–sound system, owing either to an opaque orthography or
to teaching methods that make the orthography functionally
opaque. In these situations, transitional phenomena, such as logographic and partial-alphabetic reading, will be observed over an
extended period of time and are much more likely to be accorded
13
Other “immature” reading strategies, however, are commonly seen
among fledgling readers of Hebrew. When novice readers have yet to
master Hebrew’s complex vowel diacritics, the so-called kamats-patax
kibaon phenomenon is often observed in which each (consonantal) letter is
pronounced as an integral CV unit with the same default // vowel
(regardless of the actual vowel appearing below the consonant). For example, a CVCCVC word such as /prpr/ (butterfly) is mispronounced as
/prpr/—a pseudoword (see Share & Blum, 2005). A similar finding,
labeled the fatHa phenomenon, has also been reported in Arabic (Taouk &
Coltheart, 2004).
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the status of a developmental stage. Such phenomena, however,
appear to be far less prevalent in regular orthographies when a
compensatory head start in reading is not necessary and when
phonics is the teaching method.
The nature of the preschool curriculum also seems to be a
significant factor in the prevalence of logographic/partialalphabetic phenomena. The Israeli preschool curriculum actively
encourages letter learning and a variety of early reading and
writing activities throughout the preschool years (ages 3– 6 years),
whereas the Austrian preschool curriculum explicitly discourages
exposure to printed words and letter learning (Wimmer & Hummer, 1990). This downward extension of the learning-to-read
phase in English-speaking communities (and other highly Americanized cultures, such as Israel) creates opportunities for “immature” strategies of the logographic/partial-alphabetic variety.
The logographic/partial-alphabetic issue, like the phonemic
awareness–reading relation and the differential rates of learning to
decode, can all be rallied under the same banner: When the time
course of code learning is prolonged well beyond the normal span
for regular orthographies (either by an unusually complex orthography or by instructional factors), each of these issues assumes
proportions well in excess of the norms for conventional alphabetic orthographies.
The Role of Lexical and Supralexical Information in
Decoding
An opaque spelling–sound code (or one that is functionally
opaque) should increase the likelihood of nonexhaustive phonological (spelling–sound) processing among inexperienced readers,
as in the case of partial-alphabetic decoding, and should also
magnify general decoding ambiguity for newly encountered
words, especially the more irregular ones.14 This applies to readers
at all levels of ability and will oblige readers of English to resort
to lexical and, whenever possible, supralexical or extralexical
information to resolve the ambiguity (e.g., Nation & Snowling,
1998, 2004; Ricketts, Nation, & Bishop, 2007; Share, 1995;
Stanovich, 1980, 2000; Tunmer & Chapman, 1998, 2006). The
overall (i.e., main effect of) facilitation provided by context in
English word recognition and heavy reliance by less skilled (and
disabled) readers on contextual information in an effort to compensate for their lack of decoding proficiency are well established
findings in English-language research (see Nation & Snowling,
1998; Stanovich, 1980, 2000). Less, however, is known about the
role of lexical and supralexical factors in deciphering new words,
although there is evidence that these sources of information assist
the young reader in decoding unfamiliar and irregular words
(Adams & Huggins, 1985; Gough & Walsh, 1991; Ricketts et al.,
2007; Tunmer & Chapman, 1998, 2006). Skilled young readers
may be aware that the digraph ea in the novel string hearth might
be pronounced in several ways, either as in heart or earth, or even
hear, but they will be able to resolve the ambiguity only if they are
familiar with the spoken word hearth. Thus, oral vocabulary,
particularly knowledge of the specific spoken forms of a large
corpus of words, should be a significant factor in word learning—
especially for inexperienced readers and for lower frequency and
low-consistency/irregular words (Ricketts et al., 2007). Once fullyspecified word-specific representations are established and new
words become familiar, autonomous (or “modularized”) units, the
role of context should no longer be significant (Humphreys, 1985;
Stanovich, 1990). This applies to all words, regular and irregular,
provided that each word (or morpheme) has a distinct graphemic
configuration. (Homographs, such as wind and refuse, will necessarily remain dependent on extralexical information.) These considerations also imply a significant association between spoken
vocabulary (and more generally lexical–semantic information) and
early word identification, although the key factor may be knowledge of phonological forms rather than semantic information per
se (see McKague, Pratt, & Johnston, 2001). The contribution of
lexical and supralexical information to word recognition should be
greatest among novice readers for whom a large proportion of
words are not orthographically well established. The contribution
should also be significant for the skilled reader encountering an
unfamiliar or phonologically opaque word.
The Contribution of Lexical and Supralexical Information
Depends on Transparency
Several English-language studies have confirmed a significant
role for oral vocabulary and syntactic skills in word recognition,
particularly for inconsistent words and for readers with impoverished decoding abilities (for reviews, see Bowey, 2005; Nation,
2005; Nation & Snowling, 1998; Woollams et al., 2007). For
example, Ricketts et al. (2007) found that second graders’ expressive vocabulary predicted unique variance in exception word reading (11%) but not nonword and regular word reading after controlling for age, IQ, and decoding. Consistent with these data, a
subgroup of children with poor comprehension—who were
matched to a control group with good comprehension on age, IQ,
and decoding efficiency— exhibited oral vocabulary weaknesses
and read fewer exception words correctly. Woollams et al. (2007)
reviewed an extensive literature indicating a strong association
between the selective semantic deficits characteristic of semantic
dementia and difficulties reading aloud low-frequency (English)
exception words.
In a longitudinal study of early reading acquisition in Hebrew’s
regular pointed script, Shatil and Share (2003) found no significant
contribution of either oral vocabulary or syntax to a composite
speed/accuracy measure of Grade 1 decoding. This supports Shatil’s (1997) hypothesis of cognitive modularity in early reading in
a highly regular orthography. In another study of early (pointed)
Hebrew reading acquisition among biliterate versus mono-literate
Russian-speaking bilinguals, Schwartz, Leikin, and Share (2005)
found that the later-immigrating biliterates possessed inferior
knowledge of Hebrew syntax yet superior word recognition skills
in Grade 1 thanks to phonemic awareness acquired while learning
to read their native (and highly transparent) L1 Russian. Mono14
Although counterintuitive, this even applies to “regular” words. It
appears that even the simplest novel words are not immune to English
spelling–sound uncertainty. Compared with readers of more regular orthographies, English first graders exhibit far greater difficulties decoding
even “regular” pseudowords for which one-to-one grapheme–phoneme
correspondences should suffice (Seymour et al., 2003; Spencer & Hanley,
2003). This suggests that the notion of simple one-to-one correspondences
in English is a misnomer and that the notorious one-to-many relationships
for vowels create ambiguity for young readers even when confronted with
seemingly simple CVC (i.e., consistent) pseudowords, such as dem.
ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
literate bilinguals were also significantly below native Hebrewspeaking monolinguals on syntax but not reading. Similarly, Geva
and Siegel (2000) found that poor semantic knowledge of Hebrew
among Hebrew–English bilinguals did not impede the acquisition
of (pointed) Hebrew decoding skills. Nikolopoulos et al. (2006)
found that grammatical knowledge did not predict early (Grade 2)
reading in regular Greek.
Further support for a Transparency ⫻ Modularity interaction
comes from a within-subject study of individual differences in
orthographic learning among Grade 3 Hebrew readers (Share,
2007). Share (2007) compared the same pseudoword targets (each
embedded in a short passage) appearing in either shallow pointed
or deep unpointed script. The pronunciation of the fully vowelized
(i.e., pointed) targets was associated only with sublexical phonology, whereas the decoding of the same targets with the vowel
diacritics deleted (i.e., unpointed) was related to a wide range of
sublexical (phonological), lexical (morphology and semantics),
and supralexical (syntax) factors. Similar outcomes were obtained
for orthographic learning. Additional support for the prediction
regarding the unique role of extralexical context in deep unpointed
Hebrew reading comes from Bentin, Deutsch, and Liberman
(1990) and Deutsch and Bentin (1996). They found significant
syntactic deficits among a subgroup of disabled readers having
selective difficulties using sentence context to disambiguate homographs in unpointed text. This subgroup of readers were, nonetheless, proficient decoders of pointed text.
The same fundamental differences between pointed and unpointed Hebrew can also be seen in studies of context effects in the
reading of vowelized and unvowelized words in Arabic (AbuRabia, 1997, 2001; Abu-Rabia & Siegel, 1995). Context dramatically improved (i.e., doubled) the reading accuracy of unvowelized words for both normal 10th graders (Abu-Rabia, 1997) and
skilled adult Arabic readers (Abu-Rabia, 2001; see also Taouk &
Coltheart, 2004, Experiment 3). Abu-Rabia (1997, 2001) has
maintained that this finding is attributable to the fact that every
second or third word in unvowelized Arabic is homographic. In
contrast, fully vowelized Arabic, like Hebrew, is extremely regular
and was unaffected by context at either age.15
These findings converge on the conclusion that both lexical and
extralexical factors, such as syntax and vocabulary, are superfluous when spelling–sound relations are straightforward but are
indispensable when the orthography is opaque. Generalizing the
functional opacity hypothesis developed earlier in regard to the
cross-linguistic phonemic awareness findings leads to the prediction that among children still learning the basic units of a regular
spelling–sound code, both lexical and extralexical factors should
be significant contributors to word learning. Further, semantic
routes in English-language models of skilled reading (such as the
DRC’s lexical–semantic subroute; M. Coltheart et al., 1993, 2001)
and certain implementations of the triangle model (e.g., Plaut et al.,
1996; Woollams et al., 2007) may be relevant to the pronunciation
of English but not to more regular orthographies (see, e.g., Ziegler
et al., 2000).
The most definitive evidence for the Transparency ⫻ Modularity hypothesis described above would be data from carefully
matched English/non-English comparative studies examining the
role of lexical and supralexical influences on early word identification. Until such cross-linguistic studies are forthcoming, it is
worth reiterating that developmental investigations directly com-
601
paring English with highly regular German consistently reveal less
modular word recognition strategies in English manifest in greater
real-word substitutions (lexicalizations) when reading nonwords
(Frith et al., 1998; Wimmer & Goswami, 1994), stronger lexicality
and frequency effects (Frith et al., 1998; Seymour et al., 2003), and
greater influences of whole-word phonology (Goswami et al.,
2001). These developmental differences, moreover, are matched
by cross-linguistic data from skilled adult readers summarized by
the orthographic depth hypothesis (Frost, 2005; Katz & Frost,
1992). This hypothesis proposes that a phonologically opaque
script calls for a greater degree of lexical involvement or “topdown shaping” than a less opaque script. These findings support
the notion that readers of English, but not readers of more regular
orthographies, rely more on higher order lexical factors to overcome the decoding uncertainties of English spelling.
A similar Transparency ⫻ Modularity interaction also emerges
from investigations into imageability—a key semantic variable.
Imageability affects exception word reading among adult skilled
readers of English (Cortese, Simpson, & Woolsey, 1997; Strain &
Herdman, 1999; Strain, Patterson, & Seidenberg, 1995) as well as
readers with poor phonological recoding skill (Strain & Herdman,
1999). In Turkish, Italian, Greek, and Kannada—all highly regular
orthographies—imageability effects are either weak or nonexistent
(Karanth, Mathew, & Kurien, 2004; Mazzotta, Barca, Marcolini,
Stella, & Burani, 2005; Porpodas, 1999; Raman & Baluch, 2001).
Exploiting the fact that vowel opacity in consonantal abjads can be
manipulated by comparing the same word with or without vowel
diacritics, Baluch and Besner (2001) found an imageability effect
for opaque but not transparent words in Persian.
The overall conclusion seems inescapable: The role of lexical
and supralexical factors in English word recognition for novices
and experts alike does not generalize to more regular alphabetic
orthographies.
Instructional Anglocentrisms: The Timing and Content of
Reading Instruction
In English, it takes around 3 years to reach the level of decoding
mastery that is normally attained in a majority of European languages by the end of Grade 1 (Hutzler et al., 2004; Seymour et al.,
2003). Thus, 3 years of learning to read (Singer, 1978) is not a
myth in the code-mastery sense. Such an unusually long period of
time has far-reaching implications for both the timing and content
of instruction.
In consistent orthographies, the curriculum clearly reflects the
full capabilities that early decoding mastery permits (see, e.g.,
Feitelson, 1992; McEneaney, 1997) with literature studies commencing in Grade 2. Bloomfield (1933) was by no means the first
educationalist to lament “The difficulty of our spelling [which]
greatly delays elementary education” (p. 500). Indeed, proponents
15
It might seem that these findings from unpointed Hebrew and Arabic
call into question the present claim that phenomena, such as partialalphabetic reading and early nonmodularity of word recognition, are
largely an English-language orthographic aberration. However, it is essential to note that both Hebrew and Arabic are initially acquired as pointed
scripts that have near-perfect regularity. Only several years later are the
vowel diacritics dropped when children are assumed to have established
visual word units in memory and words are recognized “by sight.”
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SHARE
of spelling reform throughout the centuries have traditionally found an
ally in the teaching profession (see, Scragg, 1974, chapter 6). One of
the stated goals of the “whole language” movement was to reintroduce literature that is (or was) typically postponed until after mastery
of the code. In accordance with the Anglophone learning-to-decode
triennium, international surveys at the primary/elementary level (invariably headed by English-language researchers) are normally conducted in Grades 3 or 4. The classic International Association for the
Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) studies (Elley, 1994),
for example, justify the choice of Grades 3 and 4 (actually age 9
years) by asserting that “The first population [age 9 years] was at a
point where most children had passed the encoding/decoding phase”
(Elley, 1994, p. 6).
In several parts of the English-speaking world, formal reading
instruction begins at 5 years of age rather than 6 years of age (in
Britain: Duncan et al., 2006; in Victoria, Australia: Share et al.,
1984; in New Zealand: Thompson, Fletcher-Flinn, & Cottrell,
1999; and in a number of U.S. states: National Reading Panel,
2000) or even at 4 years of age (see Caravolas, 2005). In countries
with regular orthographies, reading instruction normally commences at 6 years of age and, in some Scandinavian countries, at
7 years of age (Elley, 1994).
Early (“emergent”) literacy. In the English-speaking world,
there is a strong tradition of preparatory or “emergent” literacy in
the years prior to formal reading instruction in school (Lancy,
1994; Strickland & Morrow, 1989; Teale & Sulzby, 1986). Some
researchers suggest that this emphasis on early literacy is a product
of English spelling–sound inconsistency (e.g., Bruck, Genesee, &
Caravolas, 1997; Feitelson, 1988). Ziegler and Goswami (2005)
have suggested that, “owing to the difficulties in teaching the
inconsistent English alphabetic code, English-speaking countries
have begun to teach reading and ‘pre-reading’ skills at younger
and younger ages” (p. 14). Bruck et al. (1997) have maintained the
following:
Preliteracy skills are deemphasized in language communities that
learn a relatively transparent orthography because it is assumed that
reading acquisition is relatively straightforward. Conversely, Englishspeaking communities may place a great deal of emphasis on preliteracy skills because it is difficult for children to learn English, one
of the most inconsistent and less transparent alphabetic languages.
(p. 160)
In most countries with regular orthographies, there is little or no
reading preparation before formal schooling (see, e.g., de Jong &
van der Leij, 1999; Elbro, 2006; N. C. Ellis et al., 2004; Landerl,
2000; Mann & Wimmer, 2002; Thorstad, 1991; Wimmer, Mayringer, & Raberger, 1999). According to Wimmer, Landerl, and
Frith (1999), “[I]n [German] kindergarten[s] there is no reading
preparation at all” (p. 36). This sweeping assertion has empirical
backing; Mann and Wimmer (2002) found that English preschoolers were far superior in naming letters, word reading, phonological
awareness, and knowledge of environmental print compared with
matched German speakers. This head start, however, was rapidly
eclipsed by the German speakers by the end of Grade 1 (bearing
out Bruck et al.’s, 1997, observations cited above). The developmental trajectory consisting of an early head start by English
learners that is soon surpassed (in this case by Turkish readers) has
been reported by Durgunoglu and Oney (1999) for letter knowledge. Bruck et al. (1997) also found superior letter name knowl-
edge among English-speaking Canadians compared with Frenchspeaking Canadians. Moreover, the researchers reported more
story reading among English parents despite higher educational
levels among the French-speaking mothers. It is worth noting that
many educationalists discussing beginning reading instruction in
consistent scripts (e.g., Feitelson, 1988) have eschewed any form
of reading instruction, formal or informal, prior to first grade.
Whole language and the English spelling–sound code. Snow
and Juel (2005) have maintained that much of the debate on the
pedagogy of reading has revolved around the “villain” of orthographic depth (p. 505). The vagaries of the English spelling–sound
code have assumed a prominent place in the antiphonics rhetoric of
the whole language movement and perhaps even more so in its
popularization.16
According to F. Smith (1978), one of whole language’s founding fathers, “the ‘rules’ relating spelling to the sounds of speech
are inordinately complicated and unreliable in English . . . the
effort to read through decoding is not only futile but unnecessary”
(p. 2). Becoming a fluent reader, F. Smith asserts, means learning
to become less reliant on visual (i.e., print) information and more
reliant on nonprint nonvisual information (i.e., prior knowledge
and the generation and testing of predictions on the basis of prior
knowledge). “The spelling–sound correspondences of English are
so confusing that in my judgment children who believe they can
read unfamiliar words just by “blending” or “sounding” them out
are likely to develop into disabled readers” (F. Smith, 1978, p. 55).
Goodman, although somewhat less truculent than F. Smith
about the problems of English spelling, has claimed that the use of
spelling–sound relationships is the least helpful of the three cue
systems (grapho-phonic, syntactic, and semantic). “Readers are
able to use syntactic and semantic cues to such a considerable
extent that they need only minimal graphic cues in many cases”
(Goodman, 1986, p. 64). “Developing readers must be encouraged
to predict and guess as they try to make sense of print” (Goodman,
1986, p. 39).
It is not difficult to show that F. Smith (and, to a lesser extent,
Goodman) exaggerates English spelling irregularity by ignoring
morphemic, positional, and contextual regularities (see Carney,
1994); however, similar concerns have been voiced by many
authors, not only those identified with the whole language approach. Bruck et al. (1997), for example, suggested that “for
English, a strict phonics approach may be less likely because of the
irregularities and inconsistencies in the writing system” (p. 149).
In more regular orthographies, beginning reading instruction is
more phonics oriented than in English (see, e.g., Bruck et al., 1997;
Caravolas & Bruck, 1993; Duncan et al., 2006; Hagtvet & Lyster,
2003; Hutzler et al., 2004; Landerl, 2000; Lundberg, 1994; Mann
16
I do not wish to imply that whole language was solely the outcome of
despair about English spelling. This was only one among a number of
factors, including the ascendancy of functionalist/constructivist perspectives on language and learning in general, as embodied in the work of
theorists such as Halliday, Piaget, and Vygotsky (see Goodman, 1989;
Goodman & Goodman, 1979), teacher empowerment issues (Goodman,
1989), literature-based instruction (the latter itself partly a response to the
problem of the protracted learning-to-read phase in English), an early
emphasis on writing, motivation and affect, and the specific (now-refuted)
claim that inefficient readers overattend to visual information (Goodman &
Goodman, 1979).
ANGLOCENTRISM IN READING RESEARCH
603
& Wimmer, 2002; McEneaney, 1997; Nikolopoulos et al., 2006;
Reitsma & Verhoeven, 1990) and is also more uniform (Landerl,
2000; Lyytinen et al., 2004; Mann & Wimmer, 2002; McEneaney,
1997; Nikolopoulos et al., 2006; Reitsma & Verhoeven, 1990).17
English word reading instruction often involves a combination of
code instruction (phonics) and “sight-word” instruction employing
“look-and-say” or whole-word methods in regular classrooms
(N. C. Ellis et al., 2004; Foorman et al., 2004; Mann & Wimmer,
2002; Snow & Juel, 2005) and in remedial settings (Snowling,
1996; Torgesen et al., 2001).
It is no coincidence, therefore, that the whole language movement has been the almost exclusive innovation of Englishspeaking countries (Goodman, 1986, pp. 59 – 62; Goodman, 1989,
p. 212). Speaking from the perspective of two very regular orthographies (German and Hebrew), Feitelson (1973, 1988), among
others, has protested what she regards as the “misguided” adoption
by countries with regular orthographies of Anglo-Saxon wholeword methods designed to circumvent the irregularity problems of
English (and Danish) orthographies.
focus of investigation, until very recently (Gur & Share, 2007;
Ravid, 2006).
Diacritical markings are also a popular tool for enhancing the
decipherability of nontransparent scripts for young readers. Simplified orthographies used as stepping stones for the learner (“pedographies”) often make extensive use of diacritics (e.g., i.t.a.) and
are a standard feature of consonantal abjads, such as Arabic,
Hebrew, and Persian. As noted earlier, these feature both vowelized and unvowelized versions. In these dual-purpose scripts,
vowelization by means of diacritics is the norm during the early
years of schooling (Abu-Rabia & Taha, 2006; Baluch & Besner,
1991; Ravid, 2006; Share & Levin, 1999) after which the diacritics
are discarded. With respect to the contemporary English-language
research agenda, the topic of diacritics is, unsurprisingly, a nonissue.
Diacritics
The current review has focused on disparities between English
and other (primarily alphabetic) orthographies, but commonalities
must also be acknowledged. The transition from unfamiliar to
familiar in the case of words and from novice to expert in the case
of readers offers a useful framework for conceptualizing several
universal aspects of reading.18 Every word is visually unfamiliar at
some point; all orthographies must therefore supply readers with a
means for independently deciphering new words that also lays
foundations for future rapid memory-retrieval processes. This
leads to the first linguistic universal or, more precisely, phonological universal of writing systems (DeFrancis, 1989; Hanley et al.,
1999; Ho & Bryant, 1997; Perfetti, 2003; Perfetti, Liu, & Tan,
2005; Perfetti, Zhang, & Berent, 1992; Pollatsek et al., 2000).
Orthographies must directly represent a finite set of recombinant
English orthography is exceptional in yet another regard. With
the possible exception of the apostrophe and the occasional loan
word (e.g., naı̈ve), diacritics are foreign to standard printed English. However, diacritical markings, of the kind familiar to English readers only in a pronouncing dictionary, are a common
feature of the orthographic landscape of all major language families (Daniels & Bright, 1996). Throughout the history of writing,
diacritics have proven a popular device for enabling an orthography to represent additional phonemes without adding new graphemes.
Diacritics represent a kaleidoscope of orthographic embellishments employed to modify and supplement basic graphemic information, such as marking tones (e.g., in pinyin in China; Mair,
1996); indicating voicing (e.g., in Japanese kana; J. S. Smith, 1996,
p. 212); marking stress (e.g., in Greek; Threatte, 1996); and signaling vowel quality (e.g., in Arabic; Abu-Rabia & Taha, 2006),
vowel duration (e.g., in Hungarian; Csepe, 2006), vowel nullification (e.g., in Tamil; Aaron & Joshi, 2006), nonnative phonemes
(e.g., in Kannada; Prakash & Joshi, 1995), and much more. Among
European tongues, the Slavic scripts are readily distinguished by
an efflorescence of diacritics. These mark a host of phonetic
distinctions for both vowels and consonants, the ubiquitous haček
being the best known. In pointed (fully vowelized) Semitic scripts,
the number of diacritics often exceeds the number of letters (Share
& Levin, 1999) and indicates a multitude of vowel and consonant
alternations (Ravid, 2006).
As a case in point regarding the dominance of the Englishlanguage research agenda, the ubiquity of Hebrew vowel diacritics
has provided Hebrew-language researchers with an invaluable tool
for examining the role of phonological information in word reading by permitting within-item comparisons (the same word with
and without vowel diacritics) that are not possible in English. This
unique feature of Semitic orthography has been exploited almost
exclusively to address one of the central issues on the Englishlanguage research agenda: the role of phonology in word recognition. As such, almost all of this work (see, e.g., Shimron, 1993)
has regarded diacritics as a means to an end, not as the central
Conclusions
Commonalities and Universals
17
Yet another by-product of English’s outlier orthography may well be
the huge instructional diversity that characterizes English teaching methods
(see, e.g., Aukerman, 1984). By contrast, in the Netherlands, the same
structured phonics program can be found in 8 out of 10 first-grade classrooms (Reitsma & Verhoeven, 1990). Substantial environmental variability
also has consequences for estimates of gene/environment contributions to
reading across consistent versus inconsistent orthographies. Bishop (2001)
cited two British twin studies indicating that shared environment accounts
for most of the variability among (English-speaking) dyslexics. She hypothesized that variation in instruction may be a key factor here.
18
It should be emphasized that the (old/new) unfamiliar-to-familiar/
novice-to-expert dualism proposed here as an alternative to the dominant
Anglophone regular–irregular dualism does not presume to compete with
the sophistication and level of detail of current computational models but
rather to suggest a different conceptual starting point for the modelbuilding enterprise. As such, the unfamiliar-to-familiar/novice-to-expert
framework presents only general and necessarily underspecified guidelines
given that this new point of entry to the model-building process is quite a
distance “upstream” from the much more highly developed or “downstream” efforts of contemporary computational modelers. (Ans et al.’s,
1998, multitrace computational model of reading might be one specific
instantiation of a general class of models that embodies (at least in part)
this alternative dualism as distinct from dual-route models [e.g., DRC and
connectionist dual-process] that embody a fundamentally different set of
axioms.)
604
SHARE
sublexical units of speech—the potentially infinite set of word
meanings can be represented only indirectly (A. M. Liberman,
1992; Mattingly, 1985).19 An appreciation of and facility for
manipulating those same units, phonological awareness, is therefore a universal ingredient in successful reading acquisition in all
languages and scripts (Caravolas, 2005; Cheung, McBride-Chang,
& Chow, 2006; Cossu et al., 1988; Durgunoglu & Oney, 1999;
Geva et al., 1993; Hanley, 2005; Landerl et al., 1997; Share &
Levin, 1999). Inefficient processing of print-to-sound connections,
expressed as inaccuracy or dysfluency (or both), is another universal feature of reading difficulties (Caravolas, 2005; Ho & Lai,
1999; Kim & Davis, 2006; Landerl et al., 1997; Paulesu et al.,
2001; Rack et al., 1992; Vellutino et al., 2004; Ziegler, 2006).
The second element of the unfamiliar-to-familiar/novice-toexpert dualism speaks to the essence of reading skill. In accordance
with the orthographic maxim of morphemic distinctiveness and the
self-teaching inherent in the process of deciphering unfamiliar
words (Share, 1995, 2008), the advancing reader eventually assembles a large stock of instantly familiar words, each recognized
as an integrated autonomous unit. The item-by-item accumulation
of well-unitized orthographic entries (localized or distributed) ultimately requires years of daily print exposure. This common
end-state of reading “fluency” looks remarkably similar across
diverse languages and orthographies. These commonalities notwithstanding, the discommonalities—as I, and others have attempted to argue (Frost, 2005; Katz & Frost, 1992; Seymour,
2006; Ziegler & Goswami, 2005, 2006)—are far from trivial.
Final Comments
The history of psychology, like the history of science, has
witnessed a colorful pageant of ambitious theories (e.g., Freud,
Piaget, Skinner, Newell & Simon), each aspiring to the status of
grand unifying theories of human behavior. Over the course of
time and painstaking empirical research, each theory has been
whittled down to modest proportions but still offers valuable
insights into a limited range of domain-specific phenomena. All
theories are necessarily constrained by a finite set of observations
bound by time and circumstance; thus, a complete science of
reading ultimately requires a deep understanding of the universal
and script-specific nature of reading and writing across all writing
systems. Reading science cannot be founded on a single, outlier
orthography. The sheer volume of English-language reading research and the prestige that English currently enjoys in contemporary science, technology, economics, and culture have meant
that the Anglophone research agenda often dictates the research
questions pursued by researchers the world over. We persist in
comparing other orthographies with English (see, e.g., August &
Shanahan, 2006). Findings from non-Anglophone investigations
are invariably evaluated in the light of Anglophone theory and
data. Non-English research is too often motivated by the question
of whether an English-language theory or finding extends to language X or to orthography X, where X is regarded as a special
case. I contend that it is English that warrants the special case
status and that the outcomes from non-Anglophone studies are
likely to offer a better approximation to the global norm. At the
very least, the wholesale transplantation of conclusions from reading research in English is ill-advised. Reading science can afford
to be neither Anglocentric nor Eurocentric. To see the larger
picture of how reading works (Perfetti, Liu, & Tan, 2005, p. 57)
calls for comparative analyses. It cannot be informed by a sole
highly atypical exemplar. This said, however, a science of reading
must account for reading behavior and development in both conventional and exceptional orthographies to be accorded the status
of universal.
Postscript. The unrivalled status that English enjoys today as
the global language (Crystal, 2003) has brought a proliferation of
English borrowings and associated spellings (often nonnativized).
Ironically, many highly regular (Roman-based) scripts (perhaps
hundreds) are now finding significant numbers of borrowed English spellings (exceptions, no exception) in their orthographic
lexicon. The wheel may be coming full circle, with the extraordinarily hospitable English lexicon now dispensing orthographic
largesse in every corner of the globe. Could this one outlier
orthography be shifting the global norm of spelling–sound correspondence among Roman-based scripts? Whether English spelling
exceptionality is on the wane, no grand unifying theory in the
reading field can afford to overlook such a ubiquitous outlier.
19
This appears to apply even to nonalphabetic Chinese characters.
Given that most Chinese words are polysyllabic, the finite number of
mono-syllabic phonetics (approximately 240 according to Taylor & Taylor,
1995, or 1,000 if tones are included) might be construed as a recombinant
(quasi-) “sublexical” unit. There are also several lines of evidence suggesting that even these phonetic elements are not indivisible whole units and
that learning to read Chinese is not merely a process of rote learning of
unsegmented whole-character-to-whole-syllable associations (Paradis,
1989; Wang, 1973). First, a number of studies have demonstrated that
Chinese children have phonological awareness, and although the exact
nature of the unit is yet to be resolved (see Hanley, 2005), the available
evidence is in agreement as regards to the subsyllabic, if not phonemic,
nature of this awareness (Hanley, 2005; Ho & Bryant, 1997; Siok &
Fletcher, 2001; So & Siegel, 1997). Second, there are reliable data showing
regularity effects in Chinese (Perfetti, 2003; Seidenberg, 1985; Shu et al.,
2000). In a related finding, R. C. Anderson et al. (2003) found second- and
fourth-grade Chinese readers were able to make use of partial (i.e., subsyllabic) information in the phonetic to learn and remember the pronunciations of novel semantic–phonetic compound characters (see also discussion of the ancient fanqie principle; Leong, 1995). Among these novel
characters were phonetics (termed onset-different) that shared only the
“final” (rime) unit. Furthermore, performance on these semiphonetic elements was superior to characters with no common phonetic elements.
Third, errors also confirm the influence of subsyllabic (initial/final) information. It should be acknowledged, however, that unlike alphabetic orthographies, Chinese phonetics are only one piece of a two-part puzzle;
meaning-based radicals have also been shown to be an important source of
information in learning new characters (Shu & Anderson, 1997). Perhaps
the strongest evidence for the universality of the phonological principle is
the introduction of alphabetic scripts, such as pinyin, designed to assist
children in learning new characters—a self-teaching device par excellence.
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Received September 4, 2007
Revision received February 13, 2008
Accepted February 25, 2008 䡲
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