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The acquisition of phoneme awareness in children learning the hiragana syllabary



In research on the acquisition of reading, there have been some cross-orthographic comparisons between alphabetic scripts and the hiragana syllabic script. One of the theoretical motives for these comparisons is the hypothesis that phonological awareness is related to the size of the phonological unit mapped by the orthography, with phoneme awareness limited to readers with alphabetic literacy. Therefore, it would be expected that young Japanese children who learn the hiragana syllabary (and no alphabetic orthography) would have poor awareness of phonemes, which are internal to syllables. The present research used methods more fully representative of the language and orthography examined. The results indicate a previous underestimation of early phonemic awareness in Japanese children. KeywordsPhoneme awareness–Hiragana syllabary–Cross-orthographic research–Methodology
The acquisition of phoneme awareness in children
learning the hiragana syllabary
Claire M. Fletcher-Flinn ·G. Brian Thompson ·
Megumi Yamada ·Makiko Naka
Published online: 16 September 2010
©Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Abstract In research on the acquisition of reading, there have been some cross-
orthographic comparisons between alphabetic scripts and the hiragana syllabic
script. One of the theoretical motives for these comparisons is the hypothesis that
phonological awareness is related to the size of the phonological unit mapped by the
orthography, with phoneme awareness limited to readers with alphabetic literacy.
Therefore, it would be expected that young Japanese children who learn the hira-
gana syllabary (and no alphabetic orthography) would have poor awareness of
phonemes, which are internal to syllables. The present research used methods more
fully representative of the language and orthography examined. The results indicate
a previous underestimation of early phonemic awareness in Japanese children.
Keywords Phoneme awareness · Hiragana syllabary ·
Cross-orthographic research · Methodology
The published research on learning to read a non-alphabetic orthography draws
largely on issues, questions, and methodologies from work on the learning of
English. Share (2008) drew attention to these ‘Anglocentric’ findings that may not
C. M. Fletcher-Flinn (&)
University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
G. B. Thompson
Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
M. Yamada
Hokkaido Pharmaceutical University, Otaru, Japan
M. Naka
Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan
Read Writ (2011) 24:623–633
DOI 10.1007/s11145-010-9257-8
apply to other orthographies. One theme that has attracted much research attention is
the role of phonological awareness in learning to read. The child’s explicit awareness
of the phonological units represented by the orthography has been seen as essential
for learning to read it, and this claim is the cornerstone (along with letter-sound
knowledge) of standard theories of learning to read English (e.g., Ehri, 2005; Share,
1995). In his review, Share concluded that readers whose orthographies were not
alphabetic would have poor phonemic awareness skills. The evidence cited rested on
an empirical base consisting of results from Chinese adults (Read, Zhang, Nie, &
Ding, 1986), children learning an alphasyllabary, sharing elements of alphabets and
syllabaries (reviewed in Karanth, 2006), and the hiragana syllabary (Mann, 1986).
In this early research, Mann (1986) reported that Japanese Grade 1 children were
aware of syllables but few were aware of phonemes, compared with samples in the
United States of America (US). Although obtaining similar results for Japanese
children attending school in Brussels, Spagnoletti, Morais, Alegria, and Dominicy
(1989) noted that Mann had neglected several issues relating to the properties of the
hiragana syllabary in her explanatory framework. We note that there were additional
methodological problems. The US sample received immediate correction of their
responses for all test trials, whereas the Japanese sample received no correction.
Clearly, this difference in the procedure would disadvantage the Japanese sample,
and thus invalidate the comparison. The second problem involves the selection of
words for the Japanese sample. Mann indicated that the word items for the phoneme
awareness task consisted of a broad sample of permissible phonemic sequences,
including nasals, devoiced vowels, and geminate consonants. Linguistically, these
are phonemic features of Japanese language but would be more difficult to discern
than in the phonemic task given to the comparison English-speaking children in the
Liberman, Shankweiler, Fischer, and Carter (1974) study who were asked to count
one, two, or three different phonemes. Mann does not report whether the US
children had received phoneme awareness training as part of their reading
instruction in the schools, which would be another advantage.
Moreover, if the Grade 1 Japanese children were to show phoneme awareness,
what would be the source? Japanese Grade 1 children learn a syllabary (hiragana)
for reading and writing the words of their spoken language, not an alphabetic
orthography, nor an alphasyllabary. While ‘syllabary’ is a legitimate category
summary of the orthography, natural languages and their orthographies are not as
simple or pure as would be predicted from summary categories. The hiragana
system is a case in point. Hiragana symbols typically represent the common
consonant–vowel (CV) syllable of Japanese language but are complicated by the
necessity of representing palatalization that can occur in the consonant onset of the
syllable (Coulmas, 2003, pp. 78–81). To represent these, there are 36 special
syllabograms (Akita & Hatano, 1999), in addition to the 71 basic hiragana which are
mainly CV syllabograms. Special syllabograms, the hiragana you-on, are formed by
combining two basic hiragana: the first (e.g., : ni, : ki, : chi) always with
sounds that end with i (sounding as the iin “magazine”), and the second, a smaller-
sized version of one of the three basic hiragana (i.e., : ya, : yu, : yo). (The
Japanese phonology is here transcribed by a Japanese convention for English
readers, in which the usual sounds for the English consonant letters approximate the
624 C. M. Fletcher-Flinn et al.
Japanese phonemes.) When hiragana are combined in this way, in 24 cases the i sound
represented in the first hiragana is assimilated by the y sound, the palatalization, which
is usually pronounced, as in: にゃ : nya,
: nyu, にょ : nyo. In 12 other cases the
palatalization is a component of the initial ch, sh: ちゃ : cha,
: chu, : cho; and
しゃ : sha,
: shu,: sho, and their six voiced counterparts.
In all hiragana you-on, the combinatorial orthographic procedure requires
identification of the initial consonant phoneme of the syllabic sound represented by
the first (basic) hiragana component. This could be learnt by the child as an implicit
procedure, without explicit phoneme awareness. On the other hand, it may entail
explicit awareness of phonemes, either as an integral part of the learning of these
special hiragana, or as an outcome that emerges subsequently, as demonstrated in
experimental implicit learning tasks (Knowlton, Squire, & Gluck, 1994).
Japanese research by Endo (1991) examined the development of phoneme
awareness among Japanese children attending Kindergartens that provided some
literacy instruction in hiragana (a provision that is not common in Japan). As
measures of phoneme awareness in Endo’s study, children were presented with a
two-choice matching-to-sample task with four different item sets that required
explicit auditory matching of either the initial consonant phonemes, or the vowel
phoneme endings of initial you-on syllables of words, and similarly for CV syllables
of words. As an example of an item in the first set, the child named three picture
cards (e.g., kyaku: guest, kyuu: nine; ryuu: dragon), and was instructed to say the
“kya” of kyaku, the “kyu” of kyuu, and the “ryu” of ryuu, and asked which of the
second and third words started with the same sound as “kya”? For these phoneme
awareness tasks, Endo reported, in words with you-on, high performance on initial
consonants (76%), and significantly higher than for final vowels (61%),but not
a significant corresponding difference for words with basic CV syllables (69%, and
60%, respectively, with 50% random response level). The children’s scores on
either of the item sets requiring phoneme matching of the phonemes of the you-on
syllables did not correlate significantly with their aural picture vocabulary raw
score, or their performance on reading the same words with the same you-on
syllables (Endo 1991,Appendix). The parallel correlations involving basic hiragana
were low but significant.
Endo’s study demonstrated early phoneme awareness in young Japanese children
without knowledge of an alphabetic orthography. Although the child’s identification
(either implicit or explicit) of the initial consonant vowel phoneme within the
you-on syllable is required to learn the hiragana you-on, no information was given
about the child’s knowledge of hiragana you-on when presented in isolation from
hiragana words. The first purpose of our study was to examine the extent of
knowledge of hiragana you-on among 5-year-old children having no formal reading
instruction in their Kindergarten, and compare the levels of phoneme awareness of
children having some explicit knowledge of hiragana you-on with those having
none. We also included Grade 1 children, who normally acquire nearly all of 104
hiragana (71 basic hiragana and 33 hiragana you-on) after a few months of
instruction in school. The second purpose of our study was to compare the Japanese
children’s level of phoneme awareness with that of English-speaking Kindergarten
children who have some knowledge of the English alphabet.
Phoneme awareness 625
All participants were monolingual speakers of standard Japanese. They included 21
Japanese Grade 1 children (8 girls, 13 boys) of mean age of 6 years 11 months
(6:11; SD =0:4) with an age range of 6:5–7:7, who were attending local community
elementary schools, the majority from Makomanai Elementary School. There were
also 53 Kindergarten children from Hanakawa Minami Yochien, and the Research
and Clinical Center for Child Development, Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.
These Kindergartens served the local community. The children were from the
middle age group of the Kindergartens, and had not received literacy instruction in
their Kindergartens. As knowledge of basic hiragana is relevant to acquisition of
hiragana you-on, the children were screened for hiragana knowledge and
administration was discontinued for those knowing fewer than 50 of the 71 basic
hiragana (13 children). The 40 Kindergarten children meeting this criterion were
subsequently subdivided into two groups based on their knowledge of hiragana
you-on. The 22 children (10 girls, 12 boys) without any hiragana you-on knowledge
had a mean age of 5:3 (SD =0:7), range of 4:0–6:5; and the 18 children (11 girls,
7 boys) with knowledge of one or more hiragana you-on had a mean age of 5:5
(SD =0:6), with range 4:2–6:4.
Both kindergartens were typical in their emphasis on social development, and the
teachers did not provide any systematic hiragana instruction to the children
comprising this age group. The Grade 1 children were tested 2–3 months from the
start of the school year. By this time they would have received instruction on hiragana
you-on pronunciation. Similar to aspects of whole language teaching approaches in
English, the emphasis in the teaching of reading at elementary school is on words,
sentences, and comprehension of texts (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports,
Science, and Technology, 2009). Reading and writing are integrated and usually
taught during the same lesson. The first of the two Grade 1 reading and writing
textbooks (kokugo) includes hiragana words with you-on only following completion
of the first quarter of the Grade 1 year. Based on a frequency analysis that we
conducted, words with you-on comprised 15% of the hiragana words in the entire
textbook, despite you-on being introduced only at the halfway point of the book.
Tasks administered
The Kindergarten children were administered the four tasks in one session with a
short break (about 30 min) in the middle, and the Grade 1 children performed the
tasks without a break. The order of administration was: hiragana syllabograms Part
A, hiragana word reading task, hiragana syllabograms Part B, phoneme awareness
Naming hiragana syllabograms. The 104 hiragana were divided pseudo-
randomly into two parts in order to make the task more manageable for 5- and
6-year-olds. Thirty-six of the 71 basic hiragana were allocated to Part A and the
626 C. M. Fletcher-Flinn et al.
other 35 to Part B. Sixteen of the 33 hiragana you-on made up the rest of the items in
Part A, and the other 17 were in Part B. The hiragana were presented individually on
separate cards in a fixed pseudo-random order with runs of no more than four of
either type. Half of the children received Part A first, and the other half received Part
B first. Children were asked to say the names of the characters, and were given two
scores: (1) the number correct out of 71 for the basic hiragana, and (2) the number
correct out of 33 for the hiragana you-on. (Hiragana for the voiced counterparts of
sha, shu, sho, were not presented as their usage for young children is rare.) It is
noted that the names of the hiragana are the usual sounds the hiragana represent in
words. The last response to an item was the one scored, and so the scoring included
self-corrections. As the complete set of the hiragana in use was tested, there was no
item sampling. Hence, the usual internal consistency coefficient is not applicable.
Hiragana word reading. As a national standardized hiragana word reading test for
children was not available, we used the oral word reading task described by Ellis
et al. (2004) in their cross-orthographic study of reading among children 6 to 15 years
of age. This task was constructed from word frequency lists taken from a database of
words used (mainly in Kanji script) in Japanese newspapers. Fourteen items at the
beginning of the task are grammatical markers, most of which do not stand alone as
words. Sixteen of the 100 items are single hiragana characters, as well as
grammatical markers or words. The 20 most frequent hiragana words of the first
reading textbook (kokugo) of Grade 1 (as used throughout Japan) do not appear in
this word reading task. The internal consistency of the task is reported as Cronbach’s
alpha =.98, over four orthographies, Hiragana, Kanji, Greek, and English.
The 100 items were printed on five cards, about 20 items per card in vertical
sequence, and the child was asked to read them, one at a time. No correction was
provided but praise was given for effort. The test had a discontinuation rule of five
consecutive errors. The child’s last response to an item was that scored (so, self-
corrections were included, if the correction was the last response). As we did not
want to confound the child’s knowledge of hiragana characters with their hiragana
word reading knowledge, the 16 single hiragana items were excluded in scoring
correct word reading, making the child’s score out of 84 items (not 100).
The team of 16 Japanese postgraduate students (Scorers A) who administered the
hiragana tasks to the Grade 1 children were given training comprising an
introduction to the tasks, procedure, and scoring (with demonstrations) by one of
the Japanese authors. In addition, after the Grade 1 data collection, the students were
asked to form groups of two or three, to listen to the audio recordings and score the
children’s hiragana word responses independently. The students of each group
scored 3–5 children. Afterwards, they discussed and came to an agreement on any
discrepancies in scoring. The administration to the Kindergarten children was
conducted subsequently. The responses for each of the Kindergarten children were
scored by one of these trained Japanese graduate students who administered the
tasks and used the audio recordings. As the students did not have a background of
study in linguistics or childhood education, we also asked an English speaker
(Scorer B) with fluent standard Japanese to score the children’s responses. He had
direct experience of teaching monolingual preschool children in Japan for several
years and knowledge of psycholinguistics. He listened independently to the audio
Phoneme awareness 627
recordings of all the children’s responses. Scorers A and Scorer B were blind to each
other’s scoring in both age groups.
Phoneme awareness task. This task was patterned after the Bowey (1994) sound
identity task. This English language task comprises three sets of 8 test items each
with a common format. In the ‘initial phoneme identity’ items, for example, the child
is told that the word “fish” starts with a “f-” sound, and then asked, “Which starts
with a “f-” sound, train or flag?” In these items the target phoneme is embedded as
the initial component of a syllable onset comprising two consonants, but in the ‘onset
identity’ items the target phoneme is the only phoneme of the onset. In the ‘final
phoneme’ set the target phoneme is the final position phoneme of a CVC syllable.
The last set of items has no parallel in Japanese phonology which almost exclusively
comprises open syllables; the final position phoneme is either a vowel or the nasal
“n”. The first and second sets of items of the Bowey task parallel the items
constructed for the Japanese children. The words in the task are all monosyllabic but
in the Japanese task they are multi-syllabic, as are most words in Japanese.
Moreover, the items of the Japanese task were selected as those which potentially
could be associated with the children’s acquisition of hiragana you-on. The items
are shown in Appendix. An example of the items, in English translation of the
instruction, is: “Genki starts with a “g-” sound. Which of these start with a “g-”
sound, byoki or gyoji?” As in this example, 9 of the 12 items required the identity of
the target initial phoneme within the palatalized (y) consonant onset of the first
syllable of a word. In three of the items, 2, 4, and 7, the palatalization is present in
the target phoneme (j, ch, sh; where j is the voiced counterpart of ch). An example
of the latter type, in English translation, is: “Chizu starts with a “ch-” sound. Which
of these start with a “ch” sound, chairo or nyanko?” The words were considered to
be familiar to young children of 5 and 6 years as judged by our Japanese colleagues
(including a developmental psychologist). In the test and practice trials the correct
item occurred equally often as first and second word choices. In all items, both
words of the response choices had palatalization in the consonant onset of the initial
syllable, and both had the same phoneme in final position of the words.
The instructions in Japanese, and procedure for administration, were similar to
Bowey (1994) except that no pictorial illustrations of words were used. The task was
individually administered by one of two trained Japanese graduate students in a quiet
room. It was explained to the child that they would play a game about sounds in words.
All administration was oral. No print was presented. There was no feedback
correction on the 12 test items. Sample audio recordings from each administrator were
checked for procedural accuracy by a bilingual speaker of Japanese and English. This
check resulted in four administrations being counted as unacceptable, and those
participants were deleted from the sample. The Cronbach’s alpha for internal
consistency reliability was .59, for the advanced Kindergarten and Grade 1 children.
For her sample of English-speaking 5-year-olds, Bowey (1994) obtained
moderately high correlations between the scores on her sound identity task and
picture vocabulary test ages. In contrast, as described in the introduction, Endo
(1991) in her study of Japanese 5- and 6-year-olds reported non-significant
correlations (+.18, +.16) between her phoneme awareness task involving you-on
syllables and raw scores on a Japanese picture vocabulary test. Unfortunately, a
628 C. M. Fletcher-Flinn et al.
Japanese picture vocabulary or other test of aural vocabulary was not available for
this research.
Results and discussion
The total Kindergarten sample had 92% accuracy in naming the 71 basic hiragana,
which matched the 93% accuracy for 5-year-olds in a large survey sample of
preschool children reported by Shimamura and Mikami (1994). The first purpose of
the study was to determine whether any initial phoneme awareness among Japanese
children is associated specifically with their acquisition of hiragana you-on. The
subgroup of Kindergarten children that was selected with zero accuracy in naming the
33 hiragana you-on had very high mean accuracy (86%) on the basic hiragana
(Table 1). However, they showed a very low mean accuracy of phoneme awareness,
which was equivalent to only one of the test items above the random response level of
50%, although statistically it was significantly above that level, t(21) =2.73, p\.05.
The mean accuracy of 76% for phoneme awareness of the Kindergarten subgroup
with some accuracy in naming hiragana you-on was significantly greater than that of
the subgroup with zero accuracy on hiragana you-on,F(1,58) =11.79, p\.01,
=.20 (As expected, this 76% mean accuracy of phoneme awareness was much
greater than the random response level, p\.001). The two Kindergarten subgroups
did not vary significantly in mean age of the children, t(38) =1.10, p[.10.
Was the phoneme awareness of the Kindergarten subgroups associated with their
level of general hiragana word reading? In view of the near-zero variance of
hiragana word reading of the less advanced subgroup (Table 1), a parametric
statistical comparison was not valid. However, a representative statistic is the
number of children in each subgroup who were scored as correctly reading one or
more hiragana words of this reading task. By Scorers A, these percentages were
17% for the subgroup with no hiragana you-on accuracy, and 83% for the subgroup
with some. The difference was significant, χ
(1) =16.85, p\.001. The
corresponding percentages for Scorer B, for the respective subgroups were 9 and
Table 1 Study 1: Mean percentage accuracy for phoneme awareness, types of hiragana, and word
reading for samples of Japanese children
Samples of children Phoneme
Hiragana word reading
M(SD)M(SD)M(SD) Scorers A
Scorer B
Kindergarten with accuracy on 50 or more basic hiragana
Subgroup without accuracy
on hiragana you-on
60 (16) 0 (0)
86 (9) 1 (2) 0 (0)
Subgroup with some accuracy
on hiragana you-on
76 (18) 71 (38)
99 (2) 35 (35) 11 (22)
Grade 1 (total, unselected) 84 (11) 89 (21) 97 (9) 56 (40) 35 (39)
Random response level is 50%
Values are the basis of selection of these subgroups
Phoneme awareness 629
50% reading one or more words. This difference was also significant, χ
(1) =6.38,
p\.02. The correlation between the two scorers yielded an inter-rater reliability
of +.78, over the total of 61 participants. In view of his experience of teaching
monolingual Japanese Kindergarten children and his psycholinguistic knowledge,
the more conservative scoring levels of Scorer B are those accepted here. The
variation in mean scores are shown in Table 1. It is noted that, at this beginning
level, accuracy on the hiragana word reading task was not confounded with hiragana
you-on. In the first half of the list of hiragana words (ordered by decreasing word
frequency), there was only one word with any hiragana you-on. There were eight in
the much more difficult second half of this list of 100 words.
Do these results imply that greater phoneme awareness is associated with increases
in general hiragana word reading, rather than specifically with the appearance of
naming accuracy for hiragana you-on? If so, then among the subgroup with some
hiragana you-on accuracy,a significant association would be expected between
their level of hiragana words read and their level of phoneme awareness. This was not
the case, as the correlation representing this association was +.11 for Scorer B, which
was not significantly different from zero (as it was also for Scorers A).
The mean accuracy of phoneme awareness of the unselected Grade 1 children did
not vary significantly from that of the Kindergarten subgroup with some hiragana
you-on naming accuracy, F(1, 58) =2.42, p[.10 (using the pooled error mean
square from the total of 61 participants). See Table 1. The mean accuracy of
hiragana you-on naming also did not vary significantly, F(1, 37) =3.82, p[.05.
(The error mean square could not include the less advanced Kindergarten subgroup
with zero variance.) There was a significant variation in hiragana word reading by
Scorer B, F(1, 37) =5.69, p\.05, but with linear covariance adjustment for
variation in age of the children, the difference was not significant, F(1, 36) =.43
(as was the case for the other scorers). The mean scores for naming basic hiragana
had reached ceiling levels for both the advanced Kindergarten subgroup and
Grade 1 (Table 1).
By the design of the study, the hiragana you-on scores of the less advanced
Kindergarten subgroup were all selected as zero and not free to vary. Hence,
application of a correlation analysis involving this variable for the total sample of
children would yield spurious results. However, correlations were obtained for the
variance available within the combined Kindergarten advanced subgroup and the
Grade 1 children for the association (with age partialled out) of phoneme awareness
with hiragana you-on (+.12), with basic hiragana (+.25), and with hiragana word
reading (+.28), none of which were significantly greater than zero (.05 level of
significance), and which were also the case for the other scorers. These correlation
results are consistent with the comparisons of means between the advanced
Kindergarten subgroup and the unselected Grade 1, which showed no significant
differences. The results from the two Kindergarten subgroups do show, however,
that emergence of explicit naming knowledge of hiragana you-on is the most likely
principal source of the establishment of phoneme awareness among these Japanese
The second purpose of the study was to compare the phoneme awareness levels
of Japanese Kindergarten children on the phoneme identity task with a comparable
630 C. M. Fletcher-Flinn et al.
sample of English-speaking Kindergarten children on the sound awareness task of
Bowey (1994). She reported results only for children attending Kindergartens
without reading instruction, and divided them into four groups: Group 1 of novice
readers, and Groups 2, 3, and 4 of nonreaders, based on their decreasing knowledge
of letter names. The combined Groups 1 and 2 formed a comparable sample of 42
children with advanced progress and a mean age of 5:4. They could correctly name
93% of the presented sample of 20 letters of the English alphabet, and 48% of them
could read one or more of a list of 46 words that were common in children’s
beginner reading books.
The more advanced subgroup of Japanese Kindergarten children (Table 1) had
a mean age of 5:5. They correctly named 90% of all hiragana and, by Scorer B, 50%
of them could read one or more of the 84 hiragana words, although these were
sampled from newspapers rather than children’s texts. With such a qualification, the
comparability between the English-speaking and Japanese Kindergarten groups, can
only be approximate. The Japanese accuracy for phoneme awareness was below that
for this comparable group of English-speaking children on Bowey’s task but not
greatly so. Moreover, the phoneme awareness level (84%) of the unselected
Japanese children, who had been in Grade 1 for only two or three months and had
very high accuracy in naming hiragana you-on, was quite close to that of the more
advanced English-speaking Kindergarten children (89%).
Our research was about the status of phoneme awareness in young Japanese
children. It has been claimed (Share, 2008) that phonemic awareness is central to
learning any alphabetic orthography, and those without an alphabetic orthography
will have poor phonemic awareness skills. It would follow that monolingual
Japanese children learning hiragana, a basically syllabic orthography, would have
poor phonemic awareness skills compared with English-speaking children learning
the English alphabetic orthography. Previous early work by Mann (1986) was
claimed to support this hypothesis but as described in the introduction there are
reservations about the research methods. In Endo’s (1991) study it was shown that
5- and 6-year-old children with instruction in hiragana reading had some awareness
of phonemes. However, she did not provide results on children without knowledge
of any hiragana you-on presented as isolated items. Our study was designed to
include such information, in order to extend the knowledge of any association
between the acquisition of hiragana you-on and phoneme awareness.
Hiragana orthography includes some combinations of hiragana characters, the
hiragana you-on that represent consonant cluster onsets, which sometimes occur in
spoken syllables. Knowledge of this orthographic feature requires the reader to
identify an initial position phoneme within the consonant cluster. This identification
could be made by an implicit procedure but may also entail explicit awareness of
phonemes. Hence, learning of this feature of hiragana orthography could result in
phoneme awareness either concurrently or subsequently. A measure of phoneme
awareness appropriate to Japanese phonology was constructed. It had a minimum of
Phoneme awareness 631
cognitive demands and did not require the child to pronounce either deletions or
blendings of phonological segments. Among Kindergarten children phoneme
awareness in this task was positively associated with the child’s explicit naming
knowledge of hiragana you-on. The level of phonemic awareness of the Japanese
Kindergarten children with hiragana you-on knowledge was not far below that of
comparable English-speakers of the same age on a comparable English task. The
study illustrates the importance of research hypotheses and methods that represent
all of the significant aspects of the orthographic-phonological mapping, not just the
major feature of the orthography. The latter may make apparently neat and simple
cross-orthographic comparisons but is unlikely to yield representative evidence.
Acknowledgments We thank the kindergarten directors, school principals, teachers, parents and
children in Japan who participated in this study, and Professor Jun-ichi Abe for his encouragement and
support. We also are grateful to Kane Meissel, Ai Uemiya, Tomoko Miwa, Midori Shibata, Elle Flinn,
Toshinori Yasuda, Rie Matsunaga, Yuko Yamasaki, Sayaka Fujimoto, Yoko Mori, Tomoko Nakata,
Tomomi Tajima, Yuichi Kaji, Hitomi Yamasaki, Kumiko Takeda, Akira Toyomura, Kumiko Miyawaki
and Hiromi Arimoto who collected some of the data for this study and/or helped with scoring, and Lynne
Parmenter for helpful comments on the manuscript. This research was supported by a Japanese Society
for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Invitation Fellowship to the first author (L-05501).
Items in the Japanese phoneme identity task
1. JISAN (grandfather) hyu (sound of wind) juku (cram school)
2. RANCHI (lunch) ryori (cooking) byoki (sick)
3. NURIE (colouring in) nyanko (cat, colloq.) chairo (brown)
4. PAN (bread) kyojin (giant) pyon (sound of rabbit jumping)
1. PIZA (pizza) pyuma (puma) shoga (ginger)
2. JIKO (accident) shakkuri (hiccups) joshi (girl)
3. ROKU (six) ryokan (Japanese hotel) byoin (hospital)
4. CHIZU (map) chairo (brown) nyanko (cat, colloq.)
5. KAME (turtle) shatsu (shirt) kyaku (customer/visitor)
6. GENKI (well/lively) byoki (sick) gyoji (event)
7. SHIRO (white) shashin (photo) ryoshin (parents)
8. MACHI (town) gyangu (gang) myujikku (music)
9. BARA (rose) chawan (bowl) byun (fast like a bullet)
10. GURIKO (brand name) gyaku (opposite) shoku (meal)
11. NEKO (cat) nyusu (news) gyunyu (milk)
12. HANA (flower) ryoshi (fisherman) hyoshi (book cover)
Note: The two words for each item choice are in lower-case in the second and third columns. The word
meanings are shown in parentheses
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Phoneme awareness 633
... Phoneme awareness The phoneme awareness task of Fletcher-Flinn, Thompson, Yamada, and Naka (2011) was used. Although it was patterned after one in English for assessing phoneme identity (Bowey, 1994), the items used were constructed as potentially relevant to acquisition of hiragana yoo-on. ...
... The results showed that phoneme awareness of the children in a simple test requiring only identity responses was very low and remained so for the experimental group after they had some success in transfer of their lexical training. Later in development, however, as children also learn to respond to isolated hiragana yoo-on, it has been shown that this phoneme awareness reaches a higher level (Fletcher-Flinn et al., 2011), a result consistent with Knowledge Sources theory. ...
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It has been observed in Japanese children learning to read that there is an early and rapid shift from exclusive reading of hiragana as syllabograms to the dual-use convention in which some hiragana also represent phonemic elements. Such rapid initial learning appears contrary to the standard theories of reading acquisition that require instruction in nonlexical procedures for learning phonemic elements of an orthography. However, the alternative Knowledge Sources theory implies that the shift would be achievable from lexical input by which the learner acquires an implicit formation principle for this secondary phonemic function of hiragana. In two training experiments (Studies 1 & 2), this hypothesis was examined in transfer tests with 5-year-old Japanese and with 14-year-old English-speaking beginner learners of Japanese. As predicted, relative to phonological controls, very limited lexical training of exemplar hiragana words transferred to phonemic use of other (previously unknown and untrained) hiragana in untrained words, but not in isolation from these words. In Study 3, at both beginning and adult reading levels, novel hiragana symbol combinations were created to represent individual phoneme elements in ways that do not exist in conventional hiragana orthography but are exemplars for induction of a potential generalized formation principle of the secondary phonemic function of the system. At all reading levels there was evidence of use of this generalized formation principle, a result not explained by the standard theories but implied by the alternative theory, which offers a potential universal feature of learning to read.
... Jones et al., 2010;Moll et al., 2009;Vaessen & Blomert, 2010). Interestingly, the acquisition of letter-speech sound associations has been shown to boost the development of phoneme awareness (Castles, Wilson, & Coltheart, 2011;Dehaene, 2009;Fletcher-Flinn, Thompson, Yamada, & Naka, 2011). This fits with our finding that phoneme awareness was associated with alphanumeric RAN, but not nonalphanumeric RAN. ...
Rapid automatized naming (RAN) is widely seen as an important indicator of dyslexia. The nature of the cognitive processes involved in rapid naming is however still a topic of controversy. We hypothesized that in addition to the involvement of phonological processes and processing speed, RAN is a function of inhibition processes, in particular of interference control. A total 86 children with dyslexia and 31 normal readers were recruited. Our results revealed that in addition to phonological processing and processing speed, interference control predicts rapid naming in dyslexia, but in contrast to these other two cognitive processes, inhibition is not significantly associated with their reading and spelling skills. After variance in reading and spelling associated with processing speed, interference control and phonological processing was partialled out, naming speed was no longer consistently associated with the reading and spelling skills of children with dyslexia. Finally, dyslexic children differed from normal readers on naming speed, literacy skills, phonological processing and processing speed, but not on inhibition processes. Both theoretical and clinical interpretations of these results are discussed. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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We examined the relationship between morphological awareness and word reading skills in syllabic Hiragana and morphographic Kanji. Participants were 127 Grade 1 Japanese-speaking children who were followed until Grade 2. The results showed that Grade 1 morphological awareness was uniquely and comparably associated with word reading skills in both Hiragana and Kanji in Grade 1 after controlling for nonverbal and verbal cognitive abilities, phonological awareness, and rapid automatized naming. The effect of Grade 1 morphological awareness on Grade 2 Kanji word recognition was slightly stronger (∆R² = .10) than the effect on Grade 2 Hiragana reading fluency (∆R² = .03). The findings suggest that morphological awareness plays an important role in early word reading skills across the two scripts, and with reading skill development it may become more important for mastering morphographic Kanji characters.
This study investigated the contribution of decoding and language comprehension sub-skills to Kannada and English biliteracy development over three years in multilingual students in urban low-income communities in one large city in India. Syllabic awareness, phonemic awareness and decoding skills were measured in Grades 3–5 (Time 1), and participants were followed to Grades 6–8 (Time 2), when their oral language comprehension and reading comprehension skills were tested. Hierarchical regression results revealed that: (1) both syllabic and phonemic awareness predicted Kannada decoding scores; however, only phonemic awareness predicted English decoding scores; (2) decoding ability from Time 1 and language comprehension skills from Time 2 made unique contributions to reading comprehension skills at Time 2 in both languages; (3) there were significant cross-linguistic relationships between corresponding reading sub-skills at both times; and (4) there was an independent contribution of Kannada decoding to English decoding at Time 1; however, the contribution of Kannada reading comprehension to English reading comprehension at Time 2 was not direct. The theoretical and pedagogical implications of these findings for alphasyllabic-alphabetic biliteracy development are discussed.
In research on the acquisition of reading, there have been cross-orthographic comparisons made between some alphabetic scripts and a few syllabic scripts. In the present study of Japanese Grade 1 children learning to read hiragana, a syllabic script, there was a comparison of assessments of oral word reading accuracy levels recorded by scorers with different backgrounds. The results showed that cultural conventions of criteria for children’s word accuracy implied varying degrees of sensitivity to lexical pronunciations. A consequence of these unrecognized conventions in previous research was an overestimation of the hiragana word reading ability of Japanese beginner readers. For practitioners teaching and assessing reading in their own language and orthography (either alphabetic or syllabic), as well as researchers (e.g., testing the orthographic depth hypothesis), these results have implications for obtaining valid measures of accurate lexical pronunciations (as distinct from syllabogramic or graphemic) in oral word reading.
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THIS STUDY investigated the effects of orthographic depth on reading acquisition in alphabetic, syllabic, and logographic scripts. Children between 6 and 15 years old read aloud in transparent syllabic Japanese hiragana, alphabets of increasing orthographic depth (Albanian, Greek, English), and orthographically opaque Japanese kanji ideograms, with items being matched cross-linguistically for word frequency. This study analyzed response accuracy, latency, and error types. Accuracy correlated with depth: Hiragana was read more accurately than, in turn, h unction o Albanian, Greek, English, and kanji. The deeper the orthography, the less latency was a greater the proportion of errors that were no-responses, and the more the Substantive errors tended to be whole-word substitutions rather than nonword mispronunciations. Orthographic depth thus affected both rate and strategy of reading.
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A cross-cultural study of Japanese and American children has examined the development of awareness about syllables and phonemes. Using counting tests and deletion tests, Experiments I and III reveal that in contrast to first graders in America, most of whom tend to be aware of both syllables and phonemes, almost all first graders in Japan are aware of mora (phonological units roughly equivalent to syllables) but relatively few are aware of phonemes. This difference in phonological awareness may be attributed to the fact that Japanese first graders learn to read a syllabary whereas American first graders learn to read an alphabet. For most children at this age, awareness of phonemes may require experience with alphabetic transcription, whereas awareness of syllables may be facilitated by experience with a syllabary, but less dependent upon it. To further clarify the role of knowledge of an alphabet in children's awareness of phonemes, Experiments II and IV administered the same counting and deletion tests to Japanese children in the later elementary grades. Here the data reveal that many Japanese children become aware of phonemes by age whether or not they have received instruction in alphabetic transcription. Discussion of these results focuses on some of the other factors that may promote phonological awareness.
抄録 The purpose of this study was to investigate how the awareness of phonemes relates to the learning of reading and spelling of Yoo-on (Yoo-on is a small-sized kana character which changes the high front vowel of the preceding syllable to a semivowel and adds a new vowel, for example, [ki] + [ja]→[kja]). Sixty children aged five to six were given phonemic awareness tests, reading and spelling tests, and the Shiba Picture Vocabulary Test. Two types of phonemic awareness tests were given based on the detection of either the first consonant or the end vowel. The performance levels of both of them proved quite high. Performances in the phonemic awareness tests were found to be related to performances in the Yoo-on reading and spelling tests.
抄録 Since the National Language Research Institute's (NLRI) investigation “Hiragana letters read and written by pre-school children,” in 1967, investigations of pre-school children's reading and writing ability conducted among regions have been nearly non -existent. Accordingly, the authors investigated the actual ability of 1, 202 pre-school children in Tokyo and Aichi Prefecture to read and write Hiragana letters. Results show that children's reading and writing ability has improved since the 1967 NLRI investigation. However, according to the Ministry of Education, only 10% of the kindergartens teach reading and writing. So we conclude that there has been intentional early education in institutions outside nursery schools, kindergartens and the home.
Reexamined the claim that children who cannot yet read lack phonemic sensitivity, using 96 preschoolers. Ss had not been exposed to formal reading instruction. 20 children were novice readers and 76 nonreaders based on the results of phonological oddity, sound identity, and novice reading skill tasks. Both novice readers and nonreaders high in letter knowledge were sensitive to phonemic units. Novice readers were higher in both phonological sensitivity (PS) and verbal ability than nonreaders. Robust differences in PS remained between novice readers and nonreaders equivalent in letter knowledge after verbal ability effects were controlled. Although nonreaders varying in letter knowledge also differed in PS, this result may have reflected underlying differences in verbal ability. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
To write a language, one must first abstract the unit to be used from the acoustic stream of speech. Writing systems based on the meaningless units, syllables and phonemes, were late developments in the history of written language. The alphabetic system, which requires abstraction of the phonemic unit of speech, was the last to appear, evolved from a syllabary and, unlike the other systems, was apparently invented only once. It might therefore be supposed that phoneme segmentation is particularly difficult and more difficult, indeed, than syllable segmentation. Speech research suggests reasons why this may be so. The present study provides direct evidence of a similar developmental ordering of syllable and phoneme segmentation abilities in the young child. By means of a task which required preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade children to tap out the number of segments in spoken utterances, it was found that, though ability in both syllable and phoneme segmentation increased with grade level, analysis into phonemes was significantly harder and perfected later than analysis into syllables. The relative difficulties of the different units of segmentation are discussed in relation to reading acquisition.
Ways to Assess Sight Word ReadingMemory Processes That Enable Sight Word ReadingDevelopmental TheoriesSynopsis of the TheoriesPhase Theory of Sight Word ReadingTransition from the Partial Alphabetic to Full Alphabetic PhaseDevelopment of Automaticity, Speed, and UnitizationConcluding Comments
Linguists generally conceive of speech as a sequence of elementary soundunits or phones. On the other hand, cognitive psychologists have established the existence of a close link between segmental awareness (SA) and alphabetic literacy: the best speech segmenters are also the best readers; conversely, the lack of SA leads to lagging in the acquisition of the written code. Studies carried out with illiterate adults and preliterate children suggest that SA does not arise outside the context of learning to read and write. Furthermore, cross-cultural studies have so far supported the hypothesis that SA is promoted by alphabetic literacy only, and not by logographic or syllabic literacy. The present study is inspired by Mann's (1986) research and aims at studying the phonological (i.e. syllabic and phonemic) analysis abilities of Japanese first-graders who are learning to read in a syllabic writing system. The relatively poor performance of subjects tends to confirm the starting hypothesis that SA is closely linked to alphabetic literacy. Moreover, the subjects apparently resorted to spelling-based strategies to accomplish the tasks presented. This comes to support the general idea that the written characters used to transcribe a language tend to exert a strong influence on the conscious perceptual representation of the phonology of this language.