Access to Syllable Structure in Language and Learning
Charles Read Departments of English and Linguistics University of Wisconsin, Madison
In what follows, I refer to "access" to phonological structure, rather than "awareness." As Treiman and Zukowski point out, the levels of phonological awareness are degrees of accessibility of linguistic units to judgments and manipulations. Access is perhaps a less misleading term, with no suggestion of conscious linguistic analysis ( Mattingly, 1984; Read, 1978). However, neither term adequately suggests the complex relationship between a reader and the linguistic units represented in writing.
I comment briefly on three aspects of the chapter by Treiman and Zukowski: its significance for linguistic description, some research questions that it raises, and its implications for the teaching of reading.
The experiments by Professor Treiman and her colleagues show that access to onsets and rimes in syllables forms part of a sequence of development in access to phonological units. Specifically, they show that onsets and rimes are intermediate in accessibility because of their intermediate place in the structure of the syllable, not just their intermediate size. Thus these results not only reveal a new layer of development, but they demonstrate once again the role of linguistic structure in the organization of development. Distinguishing effects of structure from general cognitive parameters like length is of course essential to psycholinguistics.
Showing the developmental place of these units may also support their existence as part of the structure of the syllable, which some linguists have recently questioned. In CV Phonology ( 1983) Clements and Keyser argue for