Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 16: 21–39, 2003.
© 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Phonological basis in reading disability: A review and analysis of
Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Abstract. Poor readers are known to do consistently worse than their normal reading peers
on tasks of phonological processing. They are characterized by their difﬁculties in printed
word recognition, phonological awareness and phonological decoding. An increasing body
of evidence points to deﬁcits in speech perception as a source of subtle but ramifying
effects in reading impaired children and adults. These deﬁcits may be traced to poorly coded
phonological representations. This article will attempt to explain poor readers’ difﬁculties in
phonological coding by drawing on a gestural account speech development. Implications of
this approach for reading intervention will be presented.
Key words: Articulation rate, Phonological awareness, Reading, Speech perception
Twenty-ﬁve years ago, research in dyslexia was more concerned with
establishing what reading disability was not, rather than what it was
(Liberman, Shankweiler, Orlando, Harris & Bell-Berti, 1971). For, in those
days, treatment for dyslexia included eye exercises and the use of balancing
beams. Fortunately, today, some basic facts about this reading disorder are
well established. Most importantly, dyslexia may be traced to a weakness
in the phonological component of language. It is characterized by a deﬁcit
in printed word recognition. The problem is believed to stem from under-
lying deﬁcits in phonological awareness and phonological decoding skills.
Studies have repeatedly shown that children who have reading difﬁculties do
signiﬁcantly worse than their normal reading peers on tasks of phonological
processing (Goswami & Bryant, 1990; Perfetti, 1985; Shankweiler, 1999). In
fact, phonological awareness is believed to be the single best predictor of later
reading performance (Liberman, 1973).
In addition to their difﬁculties with phonological processing as in
phonemic segmentation, grapheme-to-phoneme mapping and phoneme iden-
tiﬁcation and discrimination, children who are poor readers also evidence
problems with speed and accuracy in lexical retrieval, verbal short-term
memory, as well as semantic and syntactic processing on tasks of listening