Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where to begin


Rob Burling is reading my book On Reading and asked me an important question. He found the boat in the basement ingenious and admitted he missed most of the miscues in his first reading.But he wanted to know how the reader would have learned to read the words that are correct in the story.
Here's my response.
I'm glad you found the Boat in the Basement ingenious.
The answer to your question is in understanding that reading is learned in much the same way as oral language- All three systems must be present in authentic language and the three systems- Graphophonic, lexicogrammar, and semantic support each other. Those are Halliday's terms The middle level the lexico-grammar is important because wording and syntax are assigned at the same time. The word choiice assumes the grammar and the grammatical choice assumes the wording.

The current work on text linguistics makes clear that words only exist and have meaning in the context of other words. They cannot be "identified" without knowing the phrases in which they occur. Much of language iis formulaic. The reader prediicts through the door  and thus doesn't attend to that in the text it is though.

Phonics as I say in phonics facts is quite important but it is highly personal, that is the set of relationships between the standardized spelling and the phonology of each person's oral language. The work on children's writing development shows that they are inventing spellings consistent with their own phonology. In a developmental study by Prisca Martens her daughter sarah began writing her name as sarah but at a later point she wrote Sawu. 
That means that phonics is learned and used in the process of reading and writing.
Teaching phonics outside of the real language context would only reinforce phonetic spelling. As children read they naturally move to conventional spelling.

We like to think of language development as two forces shaping it : invention is the force from within that causes the learner to invent language and convention is the external force that is exerted by the language the child hears and sees. That works in oral language and written language learning is an extention of oral language learning.

So the answer to your question is that the learner is not learning words and then using them to make sense. The child is learning to make sense and in the course of that  coming to to control the wording.
 As you know language is overwhelmingly  redundant. Each element in an utterance limits what can follow. But language is also very ambiguous. Every language has homophones and homographs. That's why I became aware that ever language learner has  a "set for ambiguity". We are able to make sense of ambiguous language
because we have all three levels to support each other.

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