Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 15: 455–469, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Children with Down syndrome use phonological knowledge in
CRP2C (E.A. 1285), University of Rennes 2, Rennes, France
Abstract. Contrary to the ﬁndings of Cossu, Rossini & Marshall [(1993a) Cognition 46: 129–
138], the present experiment showed a clear link between phonological awareness and reading
performance in children with Down syndrome. Although metaphonological performance was
lower in children with Down syndrome than in normal controls of the same reading level,
phonological awareness and reading were signiﬁcantly correlated in both groups. However,
children with Down syndrome remained deﬁcient in skills such as rhyming which are not
practised as a result of literacy. These results are discussed within the framework of Gombert’s
metalinguistic development theory where, on the basis of an initial phonological sensitivity,
alphabetic reading is a pacemaker for the development of explicit phonological awareness.
Key words: Down syndrome, Learning to read, Phonemes, Phonological awareness, Rhyme
In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that phonological aware-
ness develops in interaction with learning to read an alphabetic orthography
(Morais, Cary, Alegria & Bertelson 1979; Cataldo & Ellis 1988). According
to Gombert (1992), metalinguistic development consists of a transition from
implicit (epi-) knowledge to explicit (meta-) knowledge. During epilinguistic
development, the child gains implicit knowledge of the segmental represen-
tations of spoken words in order to differentiate between similar sounding
words (e.g., pat-bat; coat-boat). These epilinguistic skills are a necessary but
not sufﬁcient condition for metalinguistic awareness. Environmental pressure
is also necessary. In fact, exposure to literacy acts as a catalyst to the devel-
opment of metalinguistic knowledge and the ability to reﬂect on the sound
structure of these words. While epilinguistic development goes from sensi-
tivity to large segments (rimes) to sensitivity to small segments (phonemes),
according to a number of authors, metalinguistic awareness of small segments
arises before that of larger segments (Duncan, Seymour & Hill 1997).
In contrast to these views, Cossu, Rossini and Marshall (1993a) used
data from 10 Italian children with Down syndrome to argue that phono-
logical awareness is neither a pre-requisite of (Cossu & Marshall 1990) nor
a consequence of learning to read. The children they described had been