What matters more for reading: the quality of your phonological representations, or your ability to access them?

What matters more for reading: the quality of your phonological representations, or your ability to access them?

First Author: Anna Cunningham -- Coventry University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Adrian Burgess; Caroline Witton; Joel Talcott; Laura Shapiro
Keywords: Phonological awareness, Reading, Structural equation modelling
Abstract / Summary: 

Two main theories explain the association between phonological awareness (PA) and reading. One suggests it depends on the extent to which PA tasks tap the quality of phonological representations (Snowling & Hulme, 1994), while another points to the metalinguistic and short-term memory demands of PA tasks (phonological ‘access’; e.g., Ramus, 2008). Yet these factors are typically confounded in existing assessments of PA. The present study seeks to unpick the separate contributions of each factor by manipulating phonological complexity and word length. If representational quality is a significant factor, complexity is expected to predict reading independent of word length. Whereas, if memory and access are key, we would expect word length effects independent of complexity.
236 nine year-old children in their fifth year of school were assessed on a modified version of the Test of phonological structure (Van der Lely & Harris, 1999). Children were asked to repeat, delete or substitute the initial/final phoneme from nonwords which were either short simple, short complex, long simple or long complex. Standardised assessments of word and nonword reading were also completed.
Structural equation modelling showed that manipulation of complex stimuli uniquely predicted decoding (regular word and nonword reading) over and above the manipulation of simple stimuli of the same length (a complexity effect). A separate model showed that the manipulation of long nonwords uniquely predicted decoding, over and above the manipulation of short nonwords of the same complexity (a word length effect).
Findings provide support for both the phonological representations hypothesis and the phonological access hypothesis, suggesting that multiple aspects of phonological skills contribute independently to reading outcomes in intermediate readers.