Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 11: 405–439, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
How does phonological awareness relate to nonword reading skill
amongst poor readers?
LYNNE G. DUNCAN
& RHONA S. JOHNSTON
Department of Psychology, University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland;
Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Scotland, UK
Abstract. This study examined phonological awareness at the level of phonemes and rhyme
and related this to nonword naming ability. Poor readers were compared with 11 year old
chronological-age controls and 8 year old reading-age controls. The poor reader group was
impaired for chronological age in all tasks, and impaired for reading age at nonword naming
and phoneme deletion. The poor readers’ rhyming skills, however, were commensurate with
reading age. Individual variation was observed together with exceptions to the group ﬁndings;
most poor readers performed within the range of the reading-age controls on the phonological
tasks and in nonword naming. Dissociations in phonological skills were evident, including
indications that intact awareness of rhyme may not be a prerequisite for the development
of phoneme awareness. Furthermore, phoneme awareness correlated signiﬁcantly with poor
readers’ word and nonword reading ability, whereas rhyming skill did not. Therefore, phoneme
awareness may be more important than rhyming skill in understanding reading disorders.
Keywords: Developmental dyslexia, Individual differences, Nonword naming, Onset-rime
awareness, Phoneme awareness, Reading development
Impaired nonword naming is a widely reported feature of reading disability
(Rack, Snowling & Olson 1992). Evidence of a nonword naming deﬁcit has
come from studies comparing poor readers with reading-age controls (Snow-
ling 1981; Baddeley, Ellis, Miles & Lewis 1982; DiBenedetto, Richardson
& Kochnower 1983; Frith & Snowling 1983; Kochnower, Richardson &
DiBenedetto 1983; Bryant & Impey 1986; Holligan & Johnston 1988; Siegel
& Ryan 1988; Olson, Wise, Conners, Rack & Fulker 1989; Manis, Custodio
& Szeszulski 1993).
The view that a nonword naming deﬁcit is typical of reading disability
appears weakened, however, by the failure of some studies to replicate these
ﬁndings (Beech & Harding 1984; Treiman & Hirsh-Pasek 1985; Vellutino
& Scanlon 1987; Johnston, Rugg & Scott 1987; Szeszulski & Manis 1987).
Rack et al. (1992) sought to isolate methodological factors such as subject
selection and nonword complexity which might account for these negative