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& Gusstafsson, J. E. (2015). Structure of phonological ability at age four.
Intelligence, 53, 108-117.
Phonological awareness involves the
ability to identify and manipulate speech sounds, and is an important predictor
of reading abilities. There is debate as to whether phonological awareness is one-dimensional or is reflective of multiple abilities. Many studies have investigated this
using phonological awareness tasks that vary in their linguistic and processing
complexity. Linguistic complexity involves the size of the linguistic unit
being manipulated, and can range from morphemes (meaningful units; e.g.: ball in snowball), to syllables, to phonemes (sound units; e.g.: /b/ sound
in snowball). Processing complexity
involves how much processing effort the tasks involves, and ranges from simple
to complex. For instance, a simple task would involve judging whether two words
rhyme, while a more complex task would involve deleting phonological units
(e.g.: “Say spit without the /p/
sound”). Phonological awareness abilities have also been linked to a component
of intelligence known as general fluid (Gf)
intelligence. Little is known about the link between phonological awareness and
Gf, but it is possible that Gf is linked to the processing complexity
involved in certain phonological awareness tasks.
The present study used a range of
tasks that varied in both their linguistic and processing complexity to examine
phonological awareness in young children. Three hundred and sixty-four four-year-old Swedish
children completed a battery of phonological awareness and cognitive tasks.
Results from this test battery were analyzed using a structural equation modelling
approach, which allowed the researchers to examine the relationship between observed
task performance and underlying phonological awareness and cognitive abilities.
They found that that phonological awareness is indeed one-dimensional, with
variability in task performance coming from the distinct linguistic and
processing demands. Additionally, Gf intelligence
was related to the processing complexity of the phonological awareness task but
not linguistic complexity, as expected.
These results have important
implications for designing tools to assess phonological awareness. It is
important to consider both the linguistic and processing complexity of
phonological awareness tasks used in assessments, and understanding that other
cognitive abilities such as intelligence contribute to phonological
awareness. Blogger: Nicolette Noonan Nicolette is a Ph.D. student working with Drs. Lisa Archibald and Marc Joanisse