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Contrasting explicit with implicit measures of children’s representations: The case of segmental phonology

Ainsworth, Stephanie and Welbourne, Stephen and Woollams, Anna and Hesketh, Anne (2019) Contrasting explicit with implicit measures of children’s representations: The case of segmental phonology. Language Learning, 69 (2). ISSN 0023-8333

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Abstract

Current theories of phonological development make contrasting predictions about the role of vocabulary growth and orthographic knowledge on the emergence of segmental phonological representation. Testing these predictions in children is made difficult by the metacognitive nature of tasks commonly used to assess phonological representations. The current study uses novel tasks which measure children’s sensitivity to phonological segments, without requiring them to have any explicit awareness of the sounds in words. These measures of segmental sensitivity were contrasted with measures requiring explicit segmental analysis of word forms (N=88, age: 3;2 to 5;7). Results show that while explicit segmental analysis is related to letter-sound knowledge, tasks measuring implicit segmental sensitivity provide evidence of segmental phonology which is related to vocabulary growth and is not mediated by orthography. This study thus shows the importance of tapping into the structure of children’s phonological representations using tasks that minimise the requirement for explicit awareness.

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