Phonemic Awareness Can Be Developed Without Reading Instruction
Ingvar Lundberg Department of Psychology University of Umeå, Sweden
Some 20 years ago Isabelle Liberman initiated a branch of reading research that later turned out to become a scientific success story. A wealth of clear evidence from many countries has now been accumulated to demonstrate the critical importance of phonological awareness in the process of learning to read. Peter Bryant and Usha Goswami at Oxford ( 1987) were bold enough to characterize the state of the field in these rather strong words: "The discovery of a strong relationship between children's phonological awareness and their progress in learning to read is one of the great successes of modern psychology" (p. 439).
Despite the impressive robustness of the empirical findings, some important theoretical questions still need to be clarified. Much inspired by the work of Isabelle Liberman, Jose Morais and his co-workers in Brussels have over the past decade addressed some of these basic questions with impressive ingenuity, skill and persistence. Thus, he is the natural person to provide the first chapter in this volume.
Morais' contribution is particularly important in the sense that he and his group more vigorously than others present a multicomponential view of phonological awareness and delineate the critical function of phonemic segmentation as opposed to rhyming and other suprasegmental skills. He also attempts to understand the possible mechanisms underlying the development of phonemic awareness. I tend to agree with most of the points in his thoughtful chapter except for one crucial issue, where I think Morais'position is unnecessarily extreme. My discussion is focused on this issue.
Whereas most researchers now seem to agree that the relationship between phonological awareness and reading is reciprocal in nature, the question of which affects the other most and earliest is far from settled. Morais'