Wednesday, February 28, 2007

be patient when you read, you'll catch all our flaws...

Humans all over are an impatient species. We jump ahead with everything.

In my research of semantic priming, wherein the reader expects a certain ending to a sentence, I found a few articles that indicate that this happens at word-level, too.

For example:
Semantic priming (high cloze probability sentence):
Johnny ate a peanut butter and jelly ________. I'm sure near 100% of you would fill in "sandwich."

Word priming:


Now, what goes in to complete that word? The blank in an experiment discussed in Rumelheart and McCleland (1981) had an obscured letter at the end that had a horizontal line and two slightly crooked appendages: most people perceived this as a "k," and the second-most popular choice was of a "d." The clincher? The ending was actually an obscured "R." The word was a nonsense word, and the task was to say fill in the blank letter, not to pronounce the word. So subjects were never primed to think that was an actual word. Go back and look at it. I'm sure your mind, for a split, split second, thinks "work," or "word"

According to Rummelheart and McClelland (1981), this word is out of context. But, what of forced context? If I wrote the letter "B" with some blanks, your mind immediate jumps to all possible words it knows that starts with "B" if "I" were the next word, "BI__" you might start going to BIND, BIKE, BILL, etc. But what if I wrote "BINT." The mind is forced to read BINT and then search around in its working memory for what that word might mean. That is, it reads the sentence, and if no real meaning is found, it moves on. The activation for B is limited, but all word that have "_INT" aren't (HINT, LINT, DINT). That is, even though the first letter is more dominant, usually, the brain gets stuck on INT.

So, if this happens on word-level, it must happen on sentence level.
"We raised pigs and cows on the family ____" farm is what you'd think. But the N400 is triggered stronger if I ended it with "dirt" and strongest with "apple."

So I leave you with this quote:
"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."

-Lewis Carrol
"...dealing with nonsense is what reading [is] fundamentally all about."-Robert Glushko

Rumelhart, DE., and McClelland, JL., (1981) Interactive processing though spreading activation in Lesglold AM., Perfetti, CA. (eds.) Interactive Processing in Reading. Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, Hillsdale.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Reading Development

You'd think that with something so universal as reading, there'd be tons of research into the stages of reading development. At some point, we all go from the ABC song to "To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows ofoutrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles..." (Courtesy of

There are only a few books out there that have parsed out stages or reading development. An older one, Chall (1982) is an amalgamation of research that divides reading into 6 stages. Chall argues that reading is Piagetian in nature, in that you can't learn words if you don't know letters. These stages have been backed up in research previous entries in this blog. For instance, the author notes that most people attain adult-level sense of grammar by the age of 7; much like Friederici, et al (2004) came up with in their developmental N4/P6 study. Further, by the age of 10 (the age-range desired for my study), children make the transition from struggling to read to being able to read for learning. That is, by the age of 10, you make the transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."

But this is only one argument, and I've found no one that's particularly cited Chall, though the work and research makes perfect sense. Having now immersed myself in that field, I can say that much of what she argues makes sense.

So why is it that there is no universally agreed upon stages of development in reading? I've read several books that discuss various stages, including linking them to Piagetian stages; as with Piaget, you need one stage to get to the next. You need to know the sound "ah" "p" and the rule of silent "E's" to make "apple." I perhaps should have taken some linguistics courses before making linguistics my Div3. But I'm more interested in how people ascertain these concepts, rather than the concepts themselves. There's always grad school. (Citation pending).

But that's all besides the point. There's a lot of bullwark out there regarding reading development. It's either focussed on going from the graphemic representations of letter to phonological sounds, or the transition into comprehension of entire chunks of speech or prose. In sum, people are wayyyyy too focussed.

Which is why it's exciting to read a summation of reading development that is as succinct as De Jong, PF (2006). I picked up the book that this essay is in (Pickering, 2006) not realizing what a breath of fresh air it would be. de Jong, in one paragraph, sums up reading development in a way that has taken other authors I've been reading an entire book to articulate. I'd quote the entire paragraph, but I think there are copyrights involved. But, in sum:
There are a few stages to reading: The beginning reader needs to acquire certain abilities: to know that there is a systematic correspondence between the written and the spoken form of words. To know that there are boundaries to words in written form that there aren't in spoken form (all words blend together when we talk, unless we're adding emphasis).

Why is this so exciting? Well, its succint-ness is definitely part of it. Another reason is for its grand implication in accent and other memes within language. In Dutch, the /a/ in ball, hand, cat are pronounced the same. We would sound pretentious if we, as Americans would pronounce these the same.

This becomes known as "decoding" or "phonological recoding" in which a person moves the orthographic (written form of a word) into the phonography (sound of a word).

More to follow...