LINGUIST List 15.1228

Fri Apr 16 2004

Review: Applied Linguistics: Nunes & Bryant (2004)

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  1. Liang Chen, Handbook of Children's Literacy

Message 1: Handbook of Children's Literacy

Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2004 22:03:58 -0400 (EDT)
From: Liang Chen <>
Subject: Handbook of Children's Literacy

Nunes, Terezinha and Peter Bryant, eds. (2004) Handbook of 
Children's Literacy, Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Announced at

Liang Chen, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The purpose of the Handbook of Children's Literacy is to 'make it
clear that children's literacy is a phenomenon that must be
investigated from a variety of perspectives, with diverse methods and
in order to answer different questions'. This commitment is partly
reflected in the 35 papers, which are arranged into five sections. The
book will be of interest to researchers, educators, and clinicians who
are concerned with 'the multifaceted nature of children's literacy'


Section A consists of 6 papers, and a brief introduction from the
editors Terezinha Nunes and Peter Bryant.

LILIANA TOLCHINSKY discusses 'Childhood Conceptions of Literacy'
through an examination of children's reactions to questions about what
individual letters signify, and claims that children see letters as
representing syllables rather than phonemes.

REBECCA TREIMAN examines the relationship between 'Phonology and
Reading', and claims that phonemic reasons underlie children's
omissions of vowels in their early writing (e.g., wrx for works).

LILIAN SPRENGER-CHAROLLES, in the paper titled 'Linguistic Processes
in Reading and Spelling: The Case of Alphabetic Writing Systems:
English, French, German and Spanish', points out that it takes
children learning to read these language different amount of time to
isolate phonemes and work out their relationship to the alphabetic
letters, probably due to different levels of regularity of
letter-sound correspondence.

GORDON D. A. BROWN & NICK CHATER explore the relevance of
'Connectionist Models in Children's Reading'. They suggest that
beginning readers and older more expert children take different
strategies that are 'optimal for the particular situation that they
are in' (p.9).

PETER BRYANT & TEREZINHA NUNES review literature on the relationship
between 'Morphology and Spelling'. They argue that English must be
treated as a 'morph-phonic script' rather than a 'capricious
orthography', because the regularities in sound-letter correspondences
in English at the level of morphology. They point out that while
morphology plays an important role in learning to read, it is not
clear why this should be so.

URSULA PRETZLIK & LILY CHAN offers a review of researches into
'Children's Self-Perception as Readers'. Individual children put
different efforts into learning to read, and much of this variation is
determined by social and emotional factors. In particular, their own
assessment of their reading abilities determine how much time they
will spend on reading, which in turn determines how well they will
learn to read.


In addition to the introduction by Alison F. Garton and Chris Pratt,
this section consists of five papers that deal with production and
comprehension of extended passages.

J. V. OAKHILL & K. CAIN provide an overview of research into 'The
Development of Comprehension Skills'. They discuss various components
of reading comprehension and children's reading development, including
word identification, vocabulary and syntax, inference-making,
knowledge of text structure, comprehension monitoring. They also
highlight the importance of reading experience and motivation for
growth of reading and gains in comprehension.

MICHEL FAYOL is concerned with 'Text and Cognition'. Based on a review
of the research into performance, knowledge and processes involved in
the use of narratives by adults and their acquisition by children,
they distinguish three dimensions of narrative processing: conceptual,
rhetorical, and linguistic. While the conceptual dimension concerns
'the mental representation of situations and events as well as their
temporal or causal relations' (p. 184), the rhetorical dimension
relates to the textual organization of narrative (e.g., narrative
schema). Linguistic dimension, on the other hand, concerns the marking
of event sequences through lexical and syntactic devices (e.g., the
use of tense and aspect markers to distinguish between foreground
actions and the background information.). According to Fayol, each of
the three dimensions is subject to specific difficulties during the
development of narrative comprehension and production, and therefore
'[E]ach can also be the object of preventive or corrective action'
(p. 192).

WILLIAM E. TUNMER & JAMES W. CHAPMAN reviews evidence in support of
three views on 'The Use of Context in Learning to Read', and conclude
that both context and word identification skills are necessary for
children to making progress in learning to read. In particular, they
suggest that context can help children in their development of word
decoding skills. They conclude their review with the hypothesis that
'skilled readers are better than less- skilled readers in using
context to identify unfamiliar words in text because of their superior
phonological recoding and/or grammatical sensitivity skills, but they
rely less on context than less-skilled readers to read the words of
text because of their superior context free word recognition skills'
(p. 211).

ALISON F. GARTON & CHRIS PRATT focus on usefulness of 'Reading
Stories' in children's reading development. Reading stories to
children can provide both social and educational benefits to, and in
fact serves as a basis for success in, their success in later reading
development. Through reading stories and being read stories, children
come to know more about the language of books, to have a concept of a
story, to know that printed words have meaning, and above all, to know
that reading stories can be fun.

relationship between 'Computers and Writing'. They review research
into the impact of technology (e.g., word processors) on writing
processes and writing development, and indirectly on text
understanding. They find that technology per se does not influence
children's writing, but the learning environment it created may
support and stimulate writing activities that enable children to
monitor their own writing, to be reflective and aware of the activity.


The 11 papers in this section cover various approaches (e.g.,
psychological, linguistic, neurological, genetic, pedagogical, and
sociological) to various aspects of literacy problems (e.g.,
definitions, occurrence, variability, causes, prediction and
intervention). CARSTEN ELBRO's paper 'Reading and Spelling
Difficulties' serves as an introduction to the other 10 papers.

S�VERINE CASALIS considers the controversy over 'The Concept of
Dyslexia'. Reading difficulties don't constitute a unitary phenomenon,
but rather run along a continuum. Children with word decoding deficits
should be treated differently from children with comprehension

NICKY BRUNSWICK covers the neurological bases of dyslexia in
'Developmental Dyslexia: Evidence from Brain Research'. The paper
reviews neuroimaging studies of developmental dyslexia using
techniques such as EEG (electroencephalography), ERPs (Event-Related
Potentials), MEG (magnetoencephalography), PET(positron Emission
Tomography), and fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Such
studies reveal abnormalities (structural and functional) within the
temporal and temporal- parietal regions (particularly within the left
hemisphere) in developmental dyslexics. The explanations for the
neurophysiological and neuroanatomical differences between
developmental dyslexics and normal readers are also evaluated.

JIM STEVENSON addresses the nature versus nurture question in dyslexia
in his chapter 'Epidemiology: Genetic and Social Influences on Reading
Ability'. Specifically, he is interested in the fact that dyslexia
runs in families, and that boys seem to be more likely than girl to
experience reading and writing difficulties. He argues that reading
disability represents 'one of the major areas where complex cognitive
skills can be analyzed in terms of the genes contributing to
functional variation' (p. 293). While '[T]here is no such thing as
''the RD (reading disability) gene'' but identifying those genes that
do play a role, insight into genetic variation and brain function will
start to emerge' (p. 307).

KATE CAIN & JANE OAKHILL present an overview of research into the
multifaceted nature of 'Reading Comprehension Difficulties' and their
cognitive correlates. They highlight poor readers' difficulties at the
word-, sentence-, and discourse-level, particularly their failure to
relate and integrate current text with previous read text and with
background knowledge. The studies they have reviewed seem to suggest
the crucial contribution of early exposure to print to later reading

CARSTEN ELBRO & HOLLIS S. SCARBOROUGH presents one review of studies
on 'Early Identification' and one on 'Early Intervention'. As is the
case for other speech and language disorder, early identification and
early intervention are crucial. As with most other papers, their
primary interest is identifying readers with word decoding
deficits. Intervention studies they reviewed therefore also center
around phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and other rudimentary
reading skills. 	

Differences in Dyslexia' from several perspectives: single case
research, models of normal reading development, comparisons with
acquired dyslexias, and connectionist models of reading and spelling

JULIE E. DOCKRELL & GEOFF LINDSAY focus on 'Specific Speech and
Language Difficulties and Literacy', and present an overview on the
varying consequences of various specific language impairments on
reading. Rather than focus on phonological factors, they suggest that
we need consider semantic, syntactic, and metalinguistic abilities and
attention in literacy development.

SUSANNA MILLAR reviews studies of 'Reading by Touch in Blind Children
and Adults'. While the focus is on Braille (characters based on a six
point matrix), two other systems ''Moon'' (simplified capital letters)
and ''optacon'' (vibrotactile stimulation of the fingertip) are also
discussed. Such studies help use to understand 'how touch functions,
and how the perceptual and orthographic basis of a tactual reading
system relates to the language which it is intended to convey'
(p. 437), and indeed how it is acquired.

J�SUS ALEGRIA reviews several issues involved in 'Deafness and
Reading' such as determinants of reading ability in deaf persons
(i.e., individual differences in language knowledge and reading
comprehension), phonology and reading in deaf persons, and reading
mechanisms in the deft. They argues that while deaf children can
compensate their inability at the linguistic level and their weakness
in general world knowledge by using sign language, they cannot reach
high literacy levels due to their lack of oral language phonology
basis. As he put it, 'oral language phonology seems to be necessary
conditions for reaching higher literacy levels' both for hearing
persons and deaf persons (p. 460).


There are six chapters in this section. ANNE-MARIE CHARTIER offers an
overview of this section through her 'Introduction: Teaching Literacy:
What Practices, When and Why'.

DANIEL A. WAGNER focuses on 'Literacy in Time and Space: Issues,
Concepts and Definitions'. A review of the literature on both
children's literacy and adult literacy suggests that we should
conceptualize literacy as having both a life span dimension (i.e.,
across an individual's life time from childhood to adult) and a life
space dimension (i.e., literacy practices across diverse parts of the
globe). A more literate world depends on a synergy of a life-span and
life-space approach to literacy.

ANNE-MARIE CHARTIER presents a selective review of methods of teaching
reading from the 16 to the 19 century in her chapter 'Teaching
Reading: A Historical Approach'. She observes that 'teaching methods
depend on what reading actually involved at the time considered'
(p. 512).

DAVID R. OLSON addresses 'The Cognitive Consequences of Literacy',
i.e., the impact of literacy on cognition. He argues that written
language is essentially different from oral language, and 'writing
systems are culturally evolved notational systems which provide
categories in terms of which we come to think about our
speech'. Consequently, we need to distinguish the communication
function of literacy from its representational or cognitive function.

JANE HURRY reviews the debate over the phonics versus whole language
approach to literacy through 'Comparative Studies of Instructional
Methods'. It is shown that both the content and method of literacy
instruction are important if learners are to benefit from learning to

MADELON SAADA-ROBERT discusses issues surrounding 'Early Emergent
Literacy', including home environment, socio-economic and cultural
predictors, quality of shared reading, the influence of genres of
books, and preschool literacy development. A research paradigm
'combining experimental, ethnological, and psychogenetic methods
within an ecological context' (p. 594) is recommended for the situated
study of emergent literacy.

JOS� MORAIS & R�GINE KOLINSKY deals with 'The Linguistic
Consequences of Literacy', and examines the impact of literacy on
linguistic and metalinguistic abilities. While a critical review of
the literature suggests differential influences of literacy on
lexical, morphological, phonological, syntax and semantic components
of language, the authors emphasize the importance of more rigorous
research methodologies. 	 


There are seven papers in this section in addition to a brief
introduction by Terezinha Nunes. Most issues covered in Section A show
themselves in this section, but this time from a cross- linguistic

SYLVIA DEFIOR, in his paper 'Phonological Awareness and Learning to
Read: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective', reviews studies on the
relationship between phonological awareness and learning to read, and
finds that different types of orthography, different degrees of
orthographic transparency with respect to phonology, and
characteristics of oral language all influence the development of
conscious phonological representations.

TEREZINHA NUNES & GIYOO HATANO, in their chapter 'Morphology, Reading
and Spelling: Looking Across Languages', considers the role of
morphology and morphological aware in reading and spelling in
different languages. Research is reviewed that shows transfer of
morphological awareness in literacy across languages.

LINDA SIEGEL reviews research on the relationship between
'Bilingualism and Reading', which reveals that learning two languages
does not interfere with learning to read and positive transfer of
reading and spelling skills can occur between two languages.

MIRIAM BINDMAN reveals transfer of morphosyntactic awareness in
children with experience to two unrelated languages and scripts by
investigating 'Grammatical Awareness Across Languages and the Role of
Social Context: Evidence from English and Hebrew'. It is suggested
that the specific social and cultural practices be considered along
with the relationships across different languages and orthographies.

KRISHNA KUMAR highlights the relationship between 'Literacy,
Socialization and the Social Order' through an analysis of school
instruction in India. Bilingual education is argued to impact not only
children's reading potential, but above all their socialization
through literacy.

ALEJANDRA PELLICER reports a study investigating 'Segmentation in the
Writing of Mayan Language Statements by Indigenous Children with
Primary Schooling'. Mayan Children instructed in Spanish as a second
language were asked to write a list of sentences spoken in Maya which
is their mother tongue. Segmentation principles learned from Spanish
instruction were found to transfer in writing Maya, with a
consideration of its particularities.

DIANA BURMAN & URSULA PRETZLIK investigates 'Paths to Literacy for
Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) Users'. However, their study is
actually more limited to test the hypothesis that teaching of
grammatical and morphological rules enhances Deaf children's spelling
development and text writing. The outcome is evaluated in terms of the
accuracy of spelling, and therefore it is not clear how significant
such intervention may be in terms of general reading comprehension.


Most contributions to this handbook view literacy as a linguistic and
representational ability. Even though literacy is occasionally
conceptualized as a generative ability, the ability is limited to
identification and production of words. The narrow conceptualization
of literacy is not what we would expect if we consider the volume as
'a rare opportunity to consider literacy in breadth and depth by
consulting a single collection' (backcover).

In this volume, reading comprehension is usually separated from word
recognition (decoding), and in fact the focus of the handbook is
literacy as word decoding. It's therefore no wonder that dyslexia is
defined as 'a specific problem with the acquisition of word decoding
abilities' (Carsten Elbro, p. 253). Carsten Elbro also refers to
dyslexia as 'a problem with the acquisition of the basic alphabetic
principle of the writing system' (Carsten Elbro, p. 250). Though he
doesn't make it clear what he means by 'the alphabetic principle', one
can't help wondering what that principle is in the written system of
languages like Chinese. Or if such a principle doesn't operate in
Chinese, are Chinese children are more fortunate so as to avoid the
infliction of dyslexia?

After phonological awareness, morphological and syntactic awareness
are also posited as a theoretical construct in reading research. One
wonders whether semantic awareness or pragmatic awareness will be the
next object of inquiry. Or how many awarenessES do we need in order to
learn to read? It is worth pointing out in this regard that while 'it
is clear that skilled readers can be identified as having certain
characteristics and certain skills, but whether these are a cause or a
consequence of reading still has to be determined' (Garton & Pratt,
p. 152.). J. V. Oakhill and K. Cain make it more explicit when they
say '[W]hereas clear correlational links have between shown between
comprehension skills and other variables, most of the available data
do not permit conclusions about the likely direction of the link
between a particular skill or ability and reading development, so in
most cases there no direct evidence that the link is causal' (p. 175).
Unfortunately, this insight is not always shared by the contributors
to this volume.

The Handbook of Children's Literacy contains a wide range of
perspectives on literacy, and reviews of literature in each
perspective may become handy for any newcomer into the field.
However, in order to have a more complete picture of children's
literacy, it might be best read as a supplement to the Handbook of
Early Childhood Literacy edited by Nigel Hall, Joanne Larson, and
Jackie Marsh and published by Saga Publications in the year of 2003
( The
publication of these two handbooks may indicate to certain extent the
lack of correspondence between researchers in childhood
literacy. While the Handbook of Children's Literacy represents a
bottom-up and skills-building approach to literacy, the Handbook of
Early Childhood Literacy presents a more holistic and therefore
top-down approach where the focus is on literacy as a socially
situated phenomenon and on how children learn to construct meaning.

I will end the review with a call from J. V. Oakhill and K. Cain for
more 'longitudinal studies of reading development and for studies of
interactions between children's comprehension skills and strategies'
(p. 176). 


Liang Chen is a doctoral student of Applied Language and Speech
Sciences in the Department of Communicative Disorders at University of
Louisiana at Lafayette. His current research includes theoretical
semiotics, language disorders, language assessment, and qualitative
methods. Other interests include syntactic theory and Chinese
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