Phonological, Orthographic, and Syntactic Awareness and their Relation to Reading Comprehension in Prelingually Deaf Individuals: What Can We Learn from Skilled Readers?

  • Paul Miller
Original Article


This study seeks to provide new insight into the phonemic, orthographic, and syntactic awareness of individuals with prelingual deafness and the way those contribute to reading. Two tests were used: one designed for the assessment of phonemic/orthographic awareness (PO/OA) and another examining reading comprehension (RC) in contexts where prior knowledge was either helpful or not. Participants were 83 prelingually deaf individuals (DIs): 21 primary school, 36 high school, and 26 university students. The control group consisted of 85 hearing individuals (HIs) from parallel education levels (29 primary school, 29 high school, 27 university). Contrary to predictions made by current reading theories, findings imply that the failure of DIs to develop sensitivity to the phonological properties of words may not underlie their reading difficulties. Rather, this weakness seems to reflect a processing deficit at the supra-lexical (sentence) level where the final meaning of single words is elaborated by its integration based upon syntactic (structural) knowledge.


Deafness Reading Phonemic awareness Orthographic awareness Syntactic awareness Reading comprehension 


  1. American National Standards Institute. (1989). Specifications for audiometers (ANSI S3.6-1989). New York: ANSI.Google Scholar
  2. Balgur, R. (1968). List of basic words for school (Reshimat Milot Jesod LeBeit-HaSefer). Isreal: Otzar HaMore.Google Scholar
  3. Best, W., & Howard, D. (2005). “The W and M are mixing me up”: Use of a visual code in verbal short-term memory tasks. Brain and Cognition, 58, 274–285.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Campbell, R., & Wright, H. (1988). Deafness, spelling and rhyme: how spelling supports written word and picture rhyming skills in deaf subjects. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology A: Human Experimental Psychology, 40, 771–788.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Chamberlain, C., & Mayberry, R. I. (2008). ASL syntactic and narrative comprehension in skilled and less skilled readers: bilingual and bimodal evidence for the linguistic basis of reading. Applied Psycholinguistics, 29, 367–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Charlier, B. L., & Leybaert, J. (2000). The rhyming skills of deaf children educated with phonetically augmented speech reading. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53, 349–375.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Colin, S., Magnan, A., Ecalle, J., & Leybaert, J. (2007). Relation between deaf children’s phonological skills in kindergarten and word recognition performance in first grade. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48(2), 139–146.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Conrad, R. (1979). The deaf school child. London: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  9. Cumming, C. E., & Rodda, M. (1985). The effect of auditory deprivation on successive processing. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 17, 232–245.Google Scholar
  10. Deal, R. E., & Thornton, R. B. (1985). An explanatory investigation of the comprehension of English through Sign English (Siglish) and Seeing Essential English (SEE-sub-1). Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 16, 267–279.Google Scholar
  11. Del Giudice, A., Lieberman, A., & Mayberry, R. (2008, October). Do phonological awareness and coding predict reading skill in deaf readers? A meta-analysis. Paper presented at the Boston University Conference on Language Development, Boston, MA.Google Scholar
  12. Dyer, A., MacSweeney, M., Szczerbinski, M., & Campbell, R. (2003). Predictors of reading delay in deaf adolescents: the relative contributions of rapid automatized naming speed and phonemic awareness and decoding. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 8, 215–229.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Ehri, L. C., Nunes, S. R., Stahl, S. A., & Willows, D. M. (2001). Systematic phonic instruction helps students learn to read: evidence from the National Reading Panel’s meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 71, 393–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ewoldt, C. (1981). A psycholinguistic description of selected deaf children reading in Sign Language. Reading Research Quarterly, 17, 58–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Frost, R. (1998). Toward a strong phonological theory of visual word recognition: true issues and false trials. Psychological Bulletin, 123, 71–99.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Gallaudet Research Institute (2005). Literacy and deaf students.
  17. Gormley, K., & Franzen, A. M. (1978). Why the deaf can’t read: comments on asking the wrong question. American Annals of the Deaf, 123, 11–32.Google Scholar
  18. Hanson, V. L., & Fowler, C. A. (1987). Phonological coding in word reading: evidence from hearing and deaf readers. Memory & Cognition, 15, 199–207.Google Scholar
  19. Hanson, V. L., & McGarr, N. S. (1989). Rhyme generation by deaf adults. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 32, 2–11.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Harris, M., & Beech, J. R. (1998). Implicit phonological awareness and early reading development in prelingually deaf children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 3, 205–216.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Harris, M., & Moreno, C. (2004). Deaf children’s use of phonological coding: evidence from reading, spelling, and Working Memory. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 9, 253–268.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Hirsh-Pasek, K. (1986). Beyond the great debate: fingerspelling as an alternative route to word identification for deaf or dyslexic readers. Reading Teacher, 40, 340–343.Google Scholar
  23. Hirsh-Pasek, K. (1987). The metalinguistics of fingerspelling: an alternate way to increase reading vocabulary in congenitally deaf readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 455–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holt, J. A. (1993). Stanford Achievement Test (8th ed.): reading comprehension subgroup results. American Annals of the Deaf, 138, 172–175.Google Scholar
  25. Hulme, C., Snowling, M., Caravolas, M., & Carroll, J. (2005). Phonological skills are (probably) one cause of success in learning to read: a comment on castles and coltheart. Scientific Studies of Reading, 9, 351–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Izzo, A. (2002). Phonemic awareness and reading ability: an investigation with young readers who are deaf. American Annals of the Deaf, 147, 18–29.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Jones, B. W., & Quigley, S. P. (1979). A study of complementation in the language of deaf and hearing students. American Annals of the Deaf, 124, 23–29.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Kelly, L. P., & Barac-Cikoja, D. (2007). The comprehension of skilled deaf readers: The roles of word recognition and other potentially critical aspects of competence. In J. Oakhill & K. Cain (Eds.), Children’s comprehension problems in oral and written language: A cognitive perspective (pp. 244–280). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  29. Koo, D., Crain, K., LaSasso, C., & Eden, G. (2008). Phonological awareness and short-term memory in hearing and deaf individuals of different communication backgrounds. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1145, 83–99.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Krashen, S. (1999). Training in phonemic awareness: greater on tests of phonemic awareness. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 93, 356–358.Google Scholar
  31. Krashen, S. (2001). Does pure phonemic training affect reading comprehension? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 89, 412–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Krashen, S. (2002). Phonemic awareness training necessary? Reading Research Quarterly, 37, 128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kyle, F. E., & Harris, M. (2006). Concurrent correlates and predictors of reading and spelling achievement in deaf and hearing school children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11, 273–288.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. LaSasso, C., Crain, K., & Leybaert, J. (2003). Rhyme generation in deaf students: the effect of exposure to cued speech. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 8, 250–270.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Leybaert, J., & Alegria, J. (1993). Is word processing involuntary in deaf children? British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 11, 1–29.Google Scholar
  36. Leybaert, J., & Lechat, J. (2001). Variability in deaf children’s spelling: the effect of language experience. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 554–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lichtenstein, E. H. (1998). The relationship between reading processes and English skills of deaf college students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 3, 80–134.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Lillo-Martin, D. C., Hanson, V. L., & Smith, S. T. (1992). Deaf readers’ comprehension of relative clause structures. Applied Psycholinguistics, 13, 13–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McQuarrie, L., & Parrila, R. (2008). Phonological representation in deaf children: rethinking the “Functional Equivalence” hypothesis. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 14, 137–154.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Miller, P. (1997). The effect of communication mode on the development of phonemic awareness in prelingually deaf students. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 40, 1151–1163.Google Scholar
  41. Miller, P. (2000). Syntactic and semantic processing in deaf and hearing readers. American Annals of the Deaf, 145, 436–448.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Miller, P. (2001). Communication mode and the information processing capacity of Hebrew readers with prelingually acquired deafness. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 13, 83–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Miller, P. (2002). Communication mode and the processing of printed words: evidence from readers with prelingually acquired deafness. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 7, 312–329.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Miller, P. (2004a). Processing of written words by individuals with prelingual deafness. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 979–989.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Miller, P. (2004b). Processing of written word and non-word visual information by individuals with prelingual deafness. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 990–1000.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Miller, P. (2005a). Changes in the processing of letters, written words, and pseudo-homophones: a comparison of fifth graders and university students. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 164, 407–434.Google Scholar
  47. Miller, P. (2005b). Reading comprehension and its relation to the quality of functional hearing: evidence from readers with different functional hearing abilities. American Annals of the Deaf, 150, 305–323.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Miller, P. (2005c). What the word recognition skills of prelingually deafened readers tell about the roots of dyslexia. Journal of Development & Physical Disabilities, 17, 369–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Miller, P. (2006a). What the visual word recognition skills of prelingually deafened readers tell about their reading comprehension problems. Journal of Development and Physical Disabilities, 18, 91–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Miller, P. (2006b). What the processing of real words and pseudo-homophones tell about the development of orthographic knowledge in prelingually deafened individuals. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11, 21–38.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Miller, P. (2007a). The role of spoken and sign language in the retention of written words by prelingually deafened native signers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12, 184–208.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Miller, P. (2007b). The role of phonology in the word decoding skills of poor readers: evidence from individuals with prelingual deafness or diagnosed dyslexia. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 19, 385–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Miller, P. (2009). The nature and efficiency of the word reading strategies of prelingually deafened, orally raised students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 14, 344–361.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Miller, P., & Abu Achmed, R. (Published online October 2009). The development of orthographic knowledge in prelingually deafened individuals: New insight from Arab readers. Journal of Development and Physical Disabilities.Google Scholar
  55. Miller, P., & Raviv, T. (2010). The reading strategies of underachievers.Google Scholar
  56. Monreal, S. T., & Hernandez, R. S. (2005). Reading levels of Spanish deaf students. American Annals of the Deaf, 150, 379–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Musselman, C. (2000). How do children who can’t hear learn to read an alphabetic script? A review of the literature on reading and deafness. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 5, 11–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Narr, R. F. (2008). Phonological awareness and decoding in deaf/hard-of-hearing students who use Visual Phonics. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 13, 405–416.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Nielsen, D. C., & Luetke-Stahlman, B. (2002). Phonological awareness: one key to the reading proficiency of deaf children. American Annals of the Deaf, 147, 11–19.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Niemi, P., Poskiparta, E., & Vauras, M. (2001). Benefits of training in linguistic awareness dissipate by grade 3? Psychology: The Journal of the Hellenic Psychological Society, 8, 330–337.Google Scholar
  61. Padden, C. A., & Hanson, V. (2000). Search for the missing link: The development of skilled reading in deaf children. In K. Emmorey & H. Lane (Eds.), The signs of language revised: An anthology to honor Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima (pp. 435–447). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  62. Paul, P. (1998). Language and deafness: The development of reading, writing, and literate thought. Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  63. Paul, P. (2001). Language and deafness (3rd ed.). San Diego: Singular.Google Scholar
  64. Paul, P. (2003). Processes and components of reading. In M. Marshark & P. Spencer (Eds.), Handbook of deaf studies, language, and education (pp. 79–109). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Perfetti, C. A., & Sandak, R. (2000). Reading optimally builds on spoken language: implications for deaf readers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 5, 32–50.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Pintner, R., & Patterson, D. (1916). A measure of the language ability of deaf children. Psychological Review, 23, 413–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Quigley, S., Smith, N., & Wilbur, R. (1974). Comprehension of relativized sentences by deaf students. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 17, 325–341.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Quigley, S., Power, D., & Steinkamp, M. (1977). The language structure of deaf children. Volta Review, 79, 73–84.Google Scholar
  69. Ramus, F., Pidgeon, E., & Frith, U. (2003). The relationship between motor control and phonology in dyslexic children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 712–722.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Report of the National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  71. Sandak, R. & Perfetti, C. A., (2000). Reading optimally builds on spoken language: Implications for deaf readers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 5, 32–50.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Scarborough, H. S., & Brady, S. A. (2002). Toward a common terminology for talking about speech and reading: a glossary of the “Phon” words and some related terms. Journal of Literacy Research, 34, 299–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Share, D. L. (1995). Phonological recoding and self-teaching: sine qua non of reading acquisition. Cognition, 55, 151–218.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  74. Share, D. L. (2004). Orthographic learning at a glance: on the time course and developmental onset of self-teaching. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 87, 267–298.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Shaywitz, S. E., & Shaywitz, B. A. (2005). Dyslexia (specific reading disability). Biological Psychiatry, 57, 1301–1309.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  76. Snow, C. E., Burns, M. S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington: National Academic Press.Google Scholar
  77. Stanovich, K. E. (2000). Progress in understanding reading: Scientific foundations and new frontiers. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  78. Sutcliffe, A., Dowker, A., & Campbell, R. (1999). Deaf children’s spelling: does it show sensitivity to phonology? Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 111–123.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  79. Thaler, V., Ebner, E. M., Wimmer, H., & Landerl, K. (2004). Training reading fluency in dysfluent readers with high reading accuracy: word specific effects but low transfer to untrained words. Annals of Dyslexia, 54, 89–113.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. Transler, C., Leybaert, J., & Gombert, J. E. (1999). Do deaf children use phonological syllables as reading units? Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 124–143.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  81. Traxler, C. (2000). The Stanford Achievement Test (9th ed.): National norming and performance standards for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Study and Deaf Education, 5, 337–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Trezek, B. J., Wang, Y., Woods, D. G., Gampp, T. L., & Paul, P. V. (2007). Using visual phonics to supplement beginning reading instruction for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12, 373–384.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  83. Troia, G. (2004). Phonological processing and its influence on literacy learning. In C. Stone, E. Silliman, B. Ehren, & K. Appel (Eds.), Handbook of language and literacy: Development and disorders (pp. 271–301). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  84. Vellutino, F. R., Fletcher, J. M., Snowling, M. J., & Scanlon, D. M. (2004). Specific reading disability (dyslexia): what have we learned in the past four decades? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 2–40.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  85. Wauters, L. N., Van Bon, W. H. J., & Telling, A. E. J. M. (2006). The reading comprehension of Dutch deaf children. Reading and Writing, 19, 49–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Webster, A. (1986). Deafness, development and literacy. London: Methuen & CO. Ltd.Google Scholar
  87. Wilbur, R. B., & Quigley, S. P. (1975). Syntactic structures in the written language of deaf children. Volta-Review, 77, 194–203.Google Scholar
  88. Wolk, S., & Allen, T. E. (1984). A 5-year follow-up of reading-comprehension achievement of hearing-impaired students in special education programs. Journal of Special Education, 18, 161–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Yurkowski, P., & Ewoldt, C. (1986). A case for the semantic processing of the deaf reader. American Annals of the Deaf, 131, 243–247.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EducationUniversity of HaifaHaifaIsrael

Personalised recommendations