How Early Phonological Development Might Set the Stage for Phoneme Awareness
Anne E. Fowler Haskins Laboratories
Treiman and Zukowski's chapter provides evidence that prereaders are aware of sublexical units intermediate between the syllable and the phoneme. Whereas 4-year old preschoolers can note commonalities in sound only when a full syllable is shared (e.g., entreat/retreat), 5-year-old kindergarteners also demonstrate an ability to group words on the basis of a shared onset or a shared rime (e.g., treat/trick, sack/black). In their study, the ability to group words on the basis of a single shared segment (e.g., break/block) does not appear before the first grade. These findings support Treiman's view, expressed in other papers ( Treiman, 1985, Treiman & Danis, 1988), that syllables, onsets, and rimes constitute units of linguistic processing that are more accessible than the phoneme. In demonstrating the developmental priority of onsets and rimes, Treiman and Zukowski suggest that this initial cut may serve as a guide in focussing explicit attention on the internal structure of the syllable.
In my discussion, I explore the possibility that the developmental progression observed by Treiman and Zukowski over the preschool years may extend beyond phonological awareness to reflect more fundamental changes in phonological representation, in particular to how lexical items are stored for recognition and retrieval; that is, the child's early vocabulary may originally be represented at a more holistic level, with organization in terms of phonemic segments emerging only gradually in early childhood. This suggestion is consistent with the view adopted by Treiman in earlier papers ( Treiman & Baron, 1981; Treiman & Breaux, 1982) and has been supported by a number of researchers studying early phonological development ( Ferguson, 1986; Jusczyk, 1986; Menyuk & Menn, 1979; Studdert-Kennedy, 1986, 1987). Because segmental organization would seem to be an essential