Phonological Processing Without Sound
Vicki L. Hanson IBM Research Division Thomas J. Watson Research Center
Susan Brady notes that problems with speech perception and production are often associated with poor reading skills among hearing children. In some cases, these problems are fairly subtle and are only detectable under conditions of stress (e.g., in the noise condition of the task used by Brady, Shankweiler, & Mann, 1983). Given this relation between perception and production on the one hand and reading skill on the other, what might be the consequence to the reader of severe impairment in speech perception and production? Consider the case of a profoundly deaf reader. This individual is faced with the task of reading and writing a language whose primary form, speech, he or she cannot hear nor readily produce. Theoretical descriptions of reading that emphasize the role of phonological processes would predict that deaf individuals would have difficulty with reading. Indeed, this is the case. Profoundly deaf students graduating from high school read, on the average, only at the level of a normally hearing child of third grade ( Conrad, 1979; Karchmer, Milone, & Wolk, 1979). This figure does not, however, indicate a reading failure among all deaf readers. Some deaf individuals do become skilled readers of English, a few reading even at the college level ( Reynolds, 1975).
Does the success by some deaf readers mean that phonological processing is not as important in reading as other research in this volume has suggested? The assumption inherent in this question is that deaf readers lack access to phonology. Given this assumption, deaf individuals who read well must be doing so without benefit of phonology.
Surprising as it may seem, current evidence suggests that the assumption may be false, and that some deaf persons do have access to phonology.