Are We Taking Too Narrow a View of the Conditions for Development of Phonological Awareness?
Virginia A. Mann Department of Cognitive Sciences University of California, Irvine, and Haskins Laboratories, Inc.
In his discussion of the development of phonological awareness, Jose Morais supported the view that knowledge of an alphabetic orthography is the primary determinant of the development of phoneme or "segmental" awareness. Although I readily acknowledge the contribution that Morais and his colleagues have made to the study of this issue, I do not believe that they have given sufficient weight to individual differences. Morais' view of the relation between alphabetic literacy and phoneme awareness is challenged by three lines of evidence that, on the one hand, show maturational constraints and, on the other, suggest that the two abilities may not be as tightly linked as has been supposed, show constraints in the opposite direction, and even show some independence between the two abilities. Longitudinal studies of beginning readers, studies of readers of nonalphabetic orthographies, and descriptions of secret languages that manipulate phonemic structure confront us with evidence that at least some individuals demonstrate awareness of the phonemic structure of words without the benefit of having been taught to read an alphabetic orthography. My intent is to elucidate each of these lines of evidence, and to see how they inform our understanding of the development of phoneme awareness.
Before arguing that factors other than knowledge of the alphabet may contribute to the awareness of phonemes, let me first concur with Morais about some of the vagaries of research in this area. Problems of measurement can indeed confound the assessment of phonemes, awareness. First, there may be ambiguity regarding the level of awareness that a given task requires. For