Questioning the Psychological Reality of Onset-Rime as a Level of Phonological Awareness
Joanne F. Carlisle Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders Northwestern University
For a number of years, researchers interested in the relationship between acquisition of oral and written language have argued that awareness of the sound structure of words facilitates learning to read and spell. Discussion and research have focused largely on children's awareness of syllables and phonemes. Attaining an awareness of phonemes has been considered to be particularly important to success in learning to read because the alphabetic orthography maps onto language at the level of the phoneme. Recognition of the phonemic structure of words, then, helps the beginning reader understand the alphabetic principle ( Liberman, Shankweiler, & Liberman, 1989). However, attaining an awareness of phonemes has also been viewed as quite difficult for young children because phonemes are coarticulated in words. It is not surprising, then, that teachers and researchers have been concerned with the issue of how to make children aware of the internal structure of words. One commonly used method has been exercises of segmenting initial consonants ("onsets") in a syllable or word from the remainder of the syllable ("rimes"). Treiman's early work on onset-rimes followed along these lines; for example, she described onset-rime manipulation as a skill associated with increasing familiarity with syllable structure ( Treiman, 1985; Treiman & Baron, 1981).
Her chapter with Zukowski (this volume) accords onset-rime a more significant status linguistically. They view onset-rime as a distinct level of linguistic knowledge and maintain that there is substantial evidence for this level of intrasyllabic organization. At the same time, they propose a hierarchical model of the development of phonological awareness: Children acquire awareness of first the syllable, then the onset-rime, and finally the phoneme.