Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Individual Differences in Learning the Regularities Between Orthography, Phonology and Semantics Predict Early Reading Skills

Siegelman, N., Rueckl, J.G., Steacy, L.M., Frost, S.J., van den Bunt, M., Zevin, J.D., Seidenberg, M.S., Pugh, K.R., Compton, D.L., & Morris, R.D. (2020). Individual differences in learning the regularities between orthography, phonology and semantics predict early reading skills. Journal of Memory and Language, 114, 104145. 

Written language is made of many repeating patterns, or ‘regularities’. There are different types of regularities. Some are related to the connections between sounds (phonology) and letters (orthography), referred to in this study as orthographic-phonological consistency. Others are related to the connection between a word’s meaning (semantics) and written form. This orthographic-semantic consistency might be related to how easily a word can be pictured in your mind, that is, a word’s imageability. When reading words, orthographic-phonological regularities tend to be relatively systematic cues, whereas imageability is a relatively arbitrary cue. The authors of this study hypothesized that better readers were likely to display greater sensitivity to orthographic-phonological regularities while performing a word naming task (i.e., word reading), and rely less on other regularities such as imageability. 

In the first part of the study, the participants were 123 children aged 7-11 years old recruited from a larger study of children reading disability. As a result, 101 of these participants had been identified with reading disability. Children completed standardized measures of single word reading, nonword reading, reading fluency, and reading comprehension, as well as a word naming task in which children read single monosyllabic words aloud. The stimuli on the word naming task varied in their imageability, orthographic-phonological consistency, and frequency of occurrence in written language. The authors used logistic regression models to examine how orthographic-phonological regularity and imageability impacted each child’s accuracy on the word naming task, and how this relationship was related to individual differences in reading ability. They found that better reading abilities were associated with greater sensitivity to orthographic-phonological regularity and lower sensitivity to imageability, suggesting that better readers tend to rely more on orthographic-phonological regularities than imageability during word naming tasks. The authors also replicated these findings in a second sample of 282 children who represented a more normal distribution of reading ability, as well as in a third set of analyses in which they aggregated data from the two samples. 

Overall, these findings suggest better readers tend to be more sensitive to associations between print and speech during word naming, whereas poor readers tend to rely more on associations between print and meaning. Importantly, the authors note that this does not represent sensitivity to these regularities in general, rather, this is specific to the particular task being measured. In line with this, the authors suggest that early reading success relies on developing an efficient division of labour to different types of regularities based on which regularities are most useful to the task at hand. 

Blogger: Alex Cross is an M.Cl.Sc. and Ph.D. Candidate in Speech-Language Pathology, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald and Dr. Marc Joanisse.

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