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Language and Literacy : Some fundamental issues in research on reading and writing

It is claimed in the present thesis that a view of spoken and written language as distinct - but not isolated - sets of codes with potential for meaning is the best working hypothesis in the search for true empirical findings about the relationship between spoken- and written-language skills.

Mainstream research on reading and writing is based on the assumption, common in modern linguistics, that spoken language is primary to written language in most important respects. Unfortunately, the conceptual framework for the study of language and 'literacy' (encompassing both reading and writing skills) is built around this assumption.

This is problematic with regard to the philosophy of science, since this framework lacks sufficient empirical support.

It is claimed in the present thesis that a view of spoken and written language as distinct - but not isolated - sets of codes with potential for meaning is the best working hypothesis in the search for true empirical findings about the relationship between spoken- and written-language skills.

This position calls for critical reflection on the conceptual framework used in research on reading and writing.
Article I examines the notion of 'phonology' in dyslexia research, particularly within the paradigm of cognitive psychology. Focusing on the problem of vague and non-falsifiable hypotheses involving phonology, it calls for a more 'vulnerable' theory.

Article II discusses the status of the concept of 'phoneme' in psycholinguistics with regard to the purposes of understanding, explanation and description in science. It is argued that the phoneme relates primarily to the domain of description and that its adequacy for explanation of written-language skills is marginal.

Article III discusses the role of the concept of 'frequency' versus phonological descriptions in the study of written-language acquisition, and a model for maintaining dynamic perspectives on acquisition is suggested.

Article IV investigates a widespread definition of 'reading' in cognitive psychology, suggesting an alternative definition.

Article V examines the notion of 'lexicon' in research on written-language skills. An alternative conception of 'lexicon' is proposed within the context of connectionism and functional linguistics.

Article VI focuses on sensitivity to prosody and the doubling of consonants in writing. A nuanced model of 'skill' is applied to enable sensivity to quantity to be captured according to commonly accepted standards of empirical science. Article VII suggests an alternative model of writing with a special focus on how to conceive of the relationship between end-product and on-line measures.

Author: Per Henning Uppstad

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