Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 15: 439–454, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Is sensitivity to rhyme a developmental precursor to sensitivity to
phoneme?: Evidence from individuals with Down syndrome
CLÁUDIA CARDOSO-MARTINS, MIRELLE FRANÇA MICHALICK &
TATIANA CURY POLLO
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil
Abstract. This study investigated sensitivity to rhyme and phoneme among readers and
nonreaders with Down syndrome (DS) and normally developing children. Three tasks were
administered to evaluate sensitivity to rhyme and phoneme: a rhyme detection task, an initial
phoneme detection task, and a middle phoneme detection task. Results for the normally
developing children replicated the results of previous studies suggesting that the ability to
detect rhyme is a developmental precursor of the ability to detect phonemes. Although all
tasks were very easy for the children who had already started to read, the nonreaders found
the rhyme detection task signiﬁcantly easier than either the initial or the middle phoneme
detection task. On the other hand, there was scarcely any indication that the individuals with
DS found the rhyme detection task easier than either one of the phoneme detection tasks.
While all tasks were very difﬁcult for the nonreaders with DS, the DS individuals who had
already started to read found the rhyme detection task signiﬁcantly more difﬁcult than both
the initial and the middle phoneme detection tasks.
Key words: Down syndrome, Phoneme detection, Rhyme detection
There is increasing evidence that phonological awareness is not an all-or-
none phenomenon (e.g., Gough, Larson & Yopp 1995). Instead, phonological
awareness seems to develop gradually, with awareness of larger phonological
units preceding the development of the ability to consciously attend to the
phonemic constituents of speech (e.g., Liberman, Shankweiler, Fisher &
Carter 1974; Treiman & Zukowski 1991).
This developmental pattern suggests that young children’s sensitivity to
larger phonological units paves the way for the development of phoneme
awareness. There is indeed evidence that young children’s sensitivity to
rhyme predicts their sensitivity to phoneme later on. For example, in Bryant,
MacLean, Bradley & Crossland’s (1990) study, sensitivity to rhyme at 4
years, 7 months predicted the ability to segment and manipulate phonemes
at 5 years, 11 months, even after differences in the children’s intelligence,
vocabulary and socioeconomic background were taken into account.