Letter processing and the formation of memory representations
in children with naming speed deﬁcits
NICOLE J. CONRAD and BETTY ANN LEVY
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Abstract. The ability to recognize letter patterns within words as a single unit is
important for ﬂuent reading. This skill is based on previously established memory
representations of common letter patterns. The ability to form these memory repre-
sentations may be impaired in some poor readers, particularly readers with naming
speed deﬁcits (NSD). This study explored factors that inﬂuence letter processing and the
subsequent formation of memory representations of letter strings in children with and
without a NSD. Children were presented with a letter string, followed by a probe unit
that was either a single letter, a two-letter cluster, or a repetition of the whole string.
Children indicated whether or not the probe had been present in the preceding string.
Two factors were manipulated: (a) amount of time to process the initial letter string, and
(b) level of orthographic structure present in the letter string. Results indicated that
overall, children with NSD performed less accurately than children without NSD.
However, children with NSD showed no diﬀerential beneﬁt in performance as a result of
longer time to process a letter string. In addition, all readers were able to make use of
the orthographic structure in a letter string to aid performance. Implications of results
for establishing memory representations of letter strings are discussed.
Key words: Development of orthographic knowledge, Naming speed deﬁcits,
Orthographic representations, Rapid automatized naming
Reading is a complex process that combines various skills and knowledge.
While individual word recognition is only one skill involved, it is of great
importance. If diﬃculty is encountered recognizing individual words, few,
if any, of the higher order skills such as comprehension, can operate.
Fluent reading of individual words involves the recognition of letter
patterns within words as a single unit (Adams, 1990). Through practice,
letters that frequently occur together become associated into single
orthographic units. It is these multi-letter units that are recruited from
memory to aid in skillful, ﬂuent reading. The ability to establish these
memory representations may be impaired in some readers, particularly
poor readers with slow naming speed. Bowers and Wolf (1993; Wolf &
Bowers, 1999) suggested that children with slow performance on a Rapid
Automatized Naming (RAN) task, process individual letters in a word
too slowly to enable associations to form between letters. As a result,
Reading and Writing (2007) 20:201–223 Ó Springer 2006