How do historians and linguists know how to pronounce the names from non-phonetic scripts?

How do historians and linguists know how to pronounce the names from non-phonetic scripts?

If we take hieroglyphic writings like the Egyptian one, an Egyptologist knows that this hieroglyph must be interpreted as Nefertiti.

Or we can see in the following Sumerian cuneiform script that there is a syllabic representation of each cuneiform symbol.

Since these writings (and others) are ideographic, I understand how I could interpret these ideas by translating them into my language.

However, how do historians and linguists extract names or syllabic groups from this type of writing, especially when they are dead languages?

By comparisons with known languages.

Let's take the example of Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is well known that the ancient Egyptian script was decoded thanks to the Rosetta Stone, which recorded an identical passage in Ancient Greek, Demotic, and hieroglyphs. The ancient Egyptian language, and hieroglyphs, were thus deciphered through comparison with the relatively well understood Greek.

Naturally, in this process, scholars identified Greek names and the corresponding hieroglyphs. While the pronunciation of normal words no doubt varied wildly between different languages, names are generally transcribed into foreign languages phonetically. Thus Ptolemy Epiphanes (from the aforementioned Rosetta) written in Egyptian hieroglyphs would, presumably, be pronounced similarly to Ptolemy written in Greek.

The phonetics of hieroglyph names correspond to names known from other languages.

If the language survives to the modern day, even if only with another script, it can provide valuable pronunciation hints for partially translated hieroglyphs. This was how the great Jean-François Champollion identified the names Ramesses and Thutmose at Abu Simbel, by leveraging his knowledge of Coptic - the final descendant of the old Egyptian language. He noticed a cartouche containing the hieroglyph for sun (still ra in Coptic), an unknown glyph, and thensrepeated twice.

Hieroglyphs for "Ramses". The doublesat the end had been identified earlier (see Ptolemaios above). Champollion then intuited it's the name of the Pharaoh upon realising that the sun glyph is pronouncedraas in Coptic

Pronouncing Sumerian is a much harder challenge. It effectively died out four thousand years ago, and went fully extinct by the 1st century AD. And as a language isolate Sumerian has no known descendant or even any related languages. Fortunately, Sumerian was an extremely influential language in its time and heavily affected Akkadian, which replaced it and adopted the same cuneiform script.

This became key with the discovery of the Behistun Inscription - the Rosetta stone of cuneiforms. It contains cuneiform inscriptions in Old Persian, Akkadian, and Elamite. Old Persian had been partially cracked prior to this mostly in the form of place and royal names, but with the new find Sir Henry Rawlinson was able to fully decipher it in 1849. Then, starting with the names found in the Persian version, Reverend Edward Hincks and later others then deciphered the Akkadian version.

As mentioned earlier, Sumerian had an immense influence on Akkadian, including numerous loan words. With the decipherment of the Akkadian cuneiform, we now know how the language was written. Moreover, while Akkadian itself have gone extinct, as a Semitic language it has many living relatives. It thus became possible to reconstruct the original language of Sumer.

Needless to say, the reconstructed pronunciations of Sumerian are far from certain. For example, King Ur-Nammu was previously thought to be Ur-Engur or Ur-Gur. His son, Shulgi, likewise was misread as Dungi, and grandson Amar-Sin used to be Bur-Sin.

This is a bit of a side note, but a somewhat similar problem was present in Chinese. Even though the language is far from dead and the writing stayed static, the pronunciation of Chinese characters have changed drastically over the millennia. Pronunciation guides were created starting with the Qieyun in AD 601. However, that still leaves a gap of over a millennium with Old Chinese, not to mention the oracle bone script from which it was derived.

Unlike a phonetic/alphabetic script, these changes are impossible to trace from the script alone. In fact, Chinese scholars did not even notice the pronunciations have changed. The first realisation came from Chen Di in the late Ming Dynasty, who realised that the apparent lack of rhyming in ancient poems, such as those from the Classic of Poetry, was actually because the sounds had shifted in the intervening millennia.

In this case, Chen had a huge corpus of ancient texts available and understood the meaning of each character well. He was thus able to begin reconstructing Old Chinese pronunciations by systematically mapping which words rhymed with what.

The short answer is that we don't. The pronunciations we use today are our best guess at how the ancients pronounced their words.

For your two examples.

We know that Sumerian had an immense influence on the Semitic language Akkadian. Because Akkadian was a Semitic language, and we have a wealth of data about how related Semitic languages were pronounced, we can therefore deduce (by applying the regular sound laws) a reasonable approximation of how Akkadian would have been pronounced.

Taking that back one step further, we can then use that best guess at Akkadian to approximate how we think Sumerian would have been pronounced.

Happily, there are no ancient Sumerians around today to tell us we're wrong!

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs pose a different set of problems. The written form of the language didn't generally record vowel sounds. So, when we transliterate the name of Nefertiti from the hieroglyphs, we actually get:

Nfr t jy tj

We add the extra "e"s to make it pronounceable. This isn't just a wild guess though. In the Greco-Roman period, stelae were often carved in multiple languages (typically, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Greek, although they could also be incised with a demotic version of the text). The best known example of this is, of course, the Rosetta Stone.

Also, the Coptic language is a descendent of the ancient Egyptian language, so we have some guidance there.

Additionally, names were often recorded in the records of other societies. They wrote them phonetically, as they heard them, and so are a good guide to how the Egyptians pronounced those names.

A good case-in-point here is the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. His name was usually written as:

("living image of Amun"). But this places the name of the god Amun at the start of the name, to honour the god. Under normal rules we would transliterate this as:

Amun twt ankh

But we know, from records of other contemporary civilisations that it was actually pronounced "Tut-ankh-amun".

The question of vowel sounds in the ancient Egyptian language is an interesting one. For example, most popular books about Egyptian hieroglyphs will confidently tell you that the vulture:

represents the letter "a". In fact, it represented what we call the aleph, and there is still no clear agreement on the sound that it represented. It may be the "glottal stop" and this is currently the majority view among Egyptologists. For convenience, we pronounce it as an "a", but we are by no means certain that is how the Ancient Egyptians pronounced it.

The aleph discussed above should not be confused with the aleph found in Semitic languages. That seems to correspond with the single reed in Egyptian hieroglyphs:

Now, most popular books on Egyptology will tell you this should be pronounced as "e" or "i" or "j". The truth is far more complex.

One of the most common offering inscriptions from ancient Egypt is the, so called, "htp di nsw" offering formula. From the Middle Kingdom onwards this would take a form similar to:

which can be transliterated as:

ḥtp dỉ nsw wsỉr nb ḏdw, nṯr ꜥꜣ, nb ꜣbḏw

One again, you'll note there are very few vowels here. The inscription translates as:

An offering that the king gives to Wsir [Osiris], lord of Busiris, the Great God, Lord of Abydos…

(Busiris and Abydos being the two main cult-centres of the god Osiris in ancient Egypt)

I said above that the formula has that form from the Middle Kingdom onwards. This is because, from the Middle Kingdom, the god Wsir (or "Osiris" to give him his more familiar Greek name) was the main god of the afterlife. In the Old Kingdom, however, that role was given to the god Inpw:

He is more familiar today by the Greek version of his name "Anubis" (you may have already guessed that from the "determinative" figure at the end of his name).

This is of particular relevance to the discussion here, since you will notice that, when written in hieroglyphs, the name Inpw begins with the single reed hieroglyph we saw above, and which I noted is usually said to represent an "e", "i", or "j".

When written in Akkadian cuneiform, the name of the god was rendered as a-na-pa, and, as we have already seen, the Greeks made it "Anubis". So, the single reed clearly wasn't pronounced as an "e" or an "i" in this instance, but rather as something closer to an "a"!

Part of the reason for the confusion is simple. Egyptian names had meaning. Stephen Quirke captured this concept quite neatly in his book Who Were the Pharaohs?, when he observed that

The essence of the individual was encapsulated in the name given to the child at birth.

The hieroglyphs used to write that name also had meaning.

Foreign names, however, did not have any special meaning. They could just be spelled out letter-by-letter using the hieroglyph that sounded closest to that letter. Thus we have the names foreign rulers, and also of the Macedonian Greek Ptolomeic kings from later inscriptions, like the Rosetta stone. These were rendered into hieroglyphs, and it is often those vowel sounds are then used when we try to pronounce ancient Egyptian names.

(There are dozens of tourist shops that will provide the same service for you today in Cairo or Luxor. For a small fee, they will produce "your name in hieroglyphs" written on a sheet of papyrus as a nice memento of your holiday. Amusingly, my name ("Iain") is invariably rendered as:

which actually bears no relation to how it is generally pronounced ("Ian"), or indeed, how it should be pronounced (something close to the Scandinavian "Jan"), but which does match the letters to hieroglyphs!).

When thinking about how words should have been pronounced, let us consider modern English for comparison. We have common words like "bath", "scone" or "either", which are pronounced quite differently in different part of the UK today. Those differences centre around how the vowel sounds should be pronounced. And those vowels are just what we are missing in many Egyptian inscriptions!

Furthermore, we have to remember that the Egyptian language was in use for millennia. Just think about how the English language has evolved from the Old English, spoken by our Anglo Saxon ancestors a thousand years ago, to the language we speak today.

As a student, I learned to read Middle Egyptian hieroglyphs. If the characters are well-formed, I can usually manage middle Egyptian hieratic as well. (Demotic of any period is still pretty-much just dots & squiggles to me!)

However, I can also just-about read inscriptions in Old Egyptian and Late Egyptian (albeit that does involve reaching for the dictionary rather more often than I would have to with a Middle Egyptian text). But it is important to be aware that there are differences in the written forms of the words though, and that, in turn, probably meant that they were pronounced differently as well.

Which brings me back to the beginning. The pronunciations that Egyptologists use today are just our best guess, based on the information available to us, at how the ancient Egyptians would have pronounced their words.

How Do You Pronounce Those Accented Characters in Ancient Near Eastern Languages Anyways?

Rivers have their own interesting sounds. The cutwater of the old footings of a bridge in the river Inn. Photo by author.

Specialists in ancient Southwest Asia do not always name and define the special accented characters which they use to transcribe words in languages like Aramaic, Babylonian, Sumerian, and Old Persian. While this is convenient for fellow specialists, and avoids taking side in some debates about the sounds of ancient languages, it makes it hard for readers without their special training to read these words, to pronounce them, and to copy them on a computer. They also sometimes refer to these characters after their Greek or Hebrew names, which can also be confusing if one does not know these alphabets and how they are transcribed in Latin letters. One of the appendices to my doctoral thesis will give the names and pronunciations of every special character which I use. I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience. If a passing phoneticist drops in to prevent a poor historian from mangling the International Phonetic Alphabet or spreading nonsense about Akkadian phonology, so much the better! I would rather be corrected now than by a reviewer when in the distant future the dissertation becomes a book.

There are two common strategies for describing a sound in a foreign language. One is by comparison to a sound in a language which the reader is expected to know. This can lead to difficulties when the author and the reader speak different dialects, or when that sound is not part of any language which the reader knows. The other is the International Phonetic Alphabet, which linguists use to describe sounds in a standardized way. Learning the IPA takes effort, its signs are easy to confuse with one another, and sometimes it distinguishes more finely than our reconstructions of ancient pronunciation can. I have decided to use both strategies, since my readers are international, and since these days there are websites with clips of each International Phonetic Alphabet sound. Similarly, I try to give Unicode names for accented characters, so that readers can find the character which they want in a font of their choice.

Table 1: Special Characters Used for Transcribing Ancient Languages

Character Name Approximate Pronunciation IPA
ˀ Aleph (Hbr.)
Very brief constriction of the throat as between the syllables of uh uh ˀ
ˁ Ayin (Hbr.)
No English equivalent ˁ
ç n/a
C with cedilla
Possibly <s> as in English sap n/a
ĝ n/a
G with circumflex
<ng>as in English running ŋ
H with breve below
Classical Greek chi, <ch> as in Scots loch, German ich x
Chet (Hbr.)
H with underdot
A breathy <h> sound ħ
q Qoph (Hbr.)
A strong <k> sound
R with ring below
Probably <uhr> or <ahr> (OP R̥taxšaçā- = Lat. Artaxerxes) ər
Tsade (Hbr.)
S with underdot
<ts> as in English bits ts
š Shin (Hbr.)
S with caron
<sh> as in English fish ʃ
ś Sin (Hbr.) A strong <s> sound s
Tet (Hbr.)
T with Underdot
A strong <t> sound
θ n/a
Theta (Gr.)
<th> as in English thing θ
x n/a
In Old Persian, <ch> as in German auch (not [ks] as in English hex) x

This is a rough guide to how these characters are usually pronounced, named, and typed. Specialists in the phonology of a particular language are likely to interpret some characters differently. A chart of the International Phonetic Alphabet with recordings of pronunciations is available at

Long vowels in Akkadian words are marked with macron <ā> or with circumflex <â> depending on their etymology.

Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform, like the scripts of Classical Latin and many Semitic languages, does not distinguish between [j] and [i].

Note that aleph is sometimes written with an apostrophe <‘> or a half-ring <ʾ>. Transcriptions of Akkadian sometimes write <ḫ> as <h> because Akkadian lacks a soft <h>.

Note that some writers transcribe Aramaic in the Hebrew square script. Adding another writing system to a thesis written for historians rather than Semiticists seems like it would not be wise.

Phonetics and transcription of Aramaic: Takamitsu Muraoka and Bezalel Porten, A Grammar of Egyptian Aramaic (Leiden: Brill, 1998) Part I

Phonetics and transcription of Sumerian: Abraham Hendrik Jagersma, A Descriptive Grammar of Sumerian (PhD Dissertation, Leiden University, 2010) § 3 Phonology (link)

Phonetics and transcription of Akkadian: Von Soden, Grundriss der Akkadischen Grammatik , Erika Reiner, A Lingistic Analysis of Akkadian , Robert Hetzron ed., The Semitic Languages

Phonetics of Old Persian: Rüdiger Schmitt, “Altpersisch“ in Rüdiger Schmitt ed., Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag: Wiesbaden, 1989) §2.2.5 pp. 66-70, Otto Skjaervo, An Introduction to Old Persian. Second version (unpublished PDF file, 2002)

Linguistic jargon and notation: Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction. Third Edition. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2013.

Most textbooks of Latin or Classical Greek describe the reconstructed phonology of those languages.

Edit 2016/08/26: Added note about the dash and its relationship to aleph.

"Case Study": Linear B

The predominantly syllabic writing system of Linear B displays a lot of ambiguity with respect to the phonology and phonotactics of Mycenaean Greek language it was used for. Some examples include.

  • no disambiguation between /r/ and /l/
  • no voicing/aspiration disambiguation in most obstruents
  • no marking of initial aspiration
  • no marking of vowel length
  • omission of sonorants and /s/ in syllable codas

On the other hand, the script as used by Greeks was capable of representating sonorant-free consonantal clusters by means of two consecutive syllabograms sharing the same vowel component (i.e. "rhyming"), and it delimited words/phrases by means of a vertical stroke between them. (For the sake of simplicity, I am deliberately ignoring non-phonetic graphemes, the ideograms, the script could employ to abbreviate or clarify the meaning.)

Hence, a string of two syllabograms such as <KA> and <RA> could, in theory, represent the following phonotactically permissible (though not necessarily attested) combinations (note that M stands for any of /m, n, s/ medially, and /m, n, r, l, s/ finally):

  1. /gala/, /gla/, /galaM/, /glaM/, /gaMla/, /gaMlaM/
  2. /kala/, /kla/, /kalaM/, /klaM/, /kaMla/, /kaMlaM/, /skala/, /skla/, /skalaM/, /sklaM/, /skaMla/, /skaMlaM/
  3. /kʰala/, /kʰla/, /kʰalaM/, /kʰlaM/, /kʰaMla/, /kʰaMlaM/, /skʰala/, /skʰla/, /skʰalaM/, /skʰlaM/, /skʰaMla/, /skʰaMlaM/
  1. /gara/, /gra/, /garaM/, /graM/, /gaMra/, /gaMraM/
  2. /kara/, /kra/, /karaM/, /kraM/, /kaMra/, /kaMraM/, /skara/, /skra/, /skaraM/, /skraM/, /skaMra/, /skaMraM/
  3. /kʰara/, /kʰra/, /kʰaraM/, /kʰraM/, /kʰaMra/, /kʰaMraM/, /skʰara/, /skʰra/, /skʰaraM/, /skʰraM/, /skʰaMra/, /skʰaMraM/

You can see now, that a simple <KA-RA> may have tens of possible interpretations. Clearly, reading Mycenaean clay tablets must have been very difficult at times, especially in case of lists of personal names.

Imagine now a three-word clause, each (graphical) word composed of two syllabograms and, in accord with the rules, delimited by the vertical stroke symbol, such as the following:


The number of possible interpretations increases dramatically, on the other hand, there are some morphosyntactic and semantic constraints and cues which reduce the tremendous ambiguity a bit.

What if we, however, unlike in the mainstream Mycenaean Greek reading, but like the fringe (pseudo-)Proto-Slavic reading, (1.) interpreted the vertical stroke not as a word delimiter, but a consonantal wildcard - one that is capable of representing up to a dozen different consonants. (2.) Consequently, word boundaries could be placed anywere in the string, between any two syllabograms. (3.) In addition to that, consonant clusters could no longer be resolved by means of consecutive rhyming syllabograms, and (4.) neither sonorants nor /s/ could be thought of in syllable codas.

While (3 & 4) would reduce the number of options, (1 & 2) would lead to their increase (X stands for consonantal wildcard, | stands for arbitrary segmentation done by the reader):

  1. kalaXkoloXkulu
  2. kalaXkoloXku lu
  3. kalaXkoloX kulu
  4. kalaXkolo Xkulu
  5. kalaXko loXkulu
  6. kalaX koloXkulu
  7. kala XkoloXkulu
  8. ka laXkoloXkulu
  9. kalaXkoloX ku lu
  10. kalaXkolo Xku lu
  11. kalaXko loXku lu
  12. kalaX koloXku lu
  13. kala XkoloXku lu
  14. ka laXkoloXku lu

etc. up to something like ha raž ho rož hu ru (the alternative, pseudo-Slavic, system also fails to distinguish /h/, /x/ and /k/ on the one hand, and /r/, /ř/, /l/ and /ľ/ on the other, along with other missing distinctions in other consonant rows).

Having described (in a simplified form) the two different systems intended for two different languages, I would like to ask:

Does the version of the system as used for Mycenaean Greek produce more phonotactically acceptable outcomes, leading to greater potential ambiguity, or is the Slabic system that may lead to greater potential ambiguity, producing generating/representing larger numbers of phonotactically acceptable readings?

Intuitively, I feel the mainstream view has a potential to produce less ambiguous results, but how can we quantify that? Once again, I should stress that this would only be about a potential ambiguity, which could only be confirmed or refuted by psycholinguistic experiments, as correctly pointed out by commentators.

Similarly, we can generalize the question and set the software tool to find out, whether reading a text T writing by means of writing system W1 leads to greater nubmers of possible readings than writing system W2, whether also representing the same language, or a different one completely.


The name stems from a Proto-Germanic form reconstructed as *rūnō, which means 'secret, mystery secret conversation rune'. It is the source of Gothic runa ('secret, mystery, counsel'), Old English rún ('whisper, mystery, secret, rune'), Old Saxon rūna ('secret counsel, confidential talk'), Middle Dutch rūne ('id.'), Old High German rūna ('secret, mystery'), and Old Norse rún ('secret, mystery, rune'). The term is related to Proto-Celtic *rūna ('secret, magic'), but it is difficult to tell whether they are cognate or reflect an early borrowing from Celtic. [2] [3] In modern Irish, "rún" means 'secret'. The term is also found in the same word in Welsh "cyfRINach". According to another theory, the Germanic term may come from the Indo-European root * reuə- ('dig'). [4]

The Proto-Germanic word for a runic letter was *rūna-stabaz, a compound of *rūnō and *stabaz ('staff letter'). It is attested in Old Norse rúna-stafr, Old English rún-stæf, and Old High German rūn-stab. [2] Other Germanic terms derived from *rūnō include *runōn ('counsellor'), *rūnjan and *ga-rūnjan ('secret, mystery'), *raunō ('trial, inquiry, experiment'), *hugi-rūnō ('secret of the mind, magical rune'), and *halja-rūnō ('witch, sorceress' literally '[possessor of the] Hel-secret'). [5]

The Finnish word runo, meaning 'poem', is an early borrowing from Proto-Germanic, [6] and the source of the term for rune, riimukirjain, meaning 'scratched letter'. [7] The root may also be found in the Baltic languages, where Lithuanian runoti means both 'to cut (with a knife)' and 'to speak'. [8]

The Old English form rún survived into the early modern period as roun, which is now obsolete. The modern English rune is a later formation that is partly derived from Late Latin runa, Old Norse rún, and Danish rune. [3]

The runes were in use among the Germanic peoples from the 1st or 2nd century AD. [a] This period corresponds to the late Common Germanic stage linguistically, with a continuum of dialects not yet clearly separated into the three branches of later centuries: North Germanic, West Germanic, and East Germanic.

No distinction is made in surviving runic inscriptions between long and short vowels, although such a distinction was certainly present phonologically in the spoken languages of the time. Similarly, there are no signs for labiovelars in the Elder Futhark (such signs were introduced in both the Anglo-Saxon futhorc and the Gothic alphabet as variants of p see peorð.)

Origins Edit

The formation of the Elder Futhark was complete by the early 5th century, with the Kylver Stone being the first evidence of the futhark ordering as well as of the p rune.

The angular shapes of the runes are shared with most contemporary alphabets of the period that were used for carving in wood or stone. There are no horizontal strokes: when carving a message on a flat staff or stick, it would be along the grain, thus both less legible and more likely to split the wood. [16] This characteristic is also shared by other alphabets, such as the early form of the Latin alphabet used for the Duenos inscription, but it is not universal, especially among early runic inscriptions, which frequently have variant rune shapes, including horizontal strokes. Runic manuscripts (that is written rather than carved runes, such as Codex Runicus) also show horizontal strokes.

The "West Germanic hypothesis" speculates on an introduction by West Germanic tribes. This hypothesis is based on claiming that the earliest inscriptions of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, found in bogs and graves around Jutland (the Vimose inscriptions), exhibit word endings that, being interpreted by Scandinavian scholars to be Proto-Norse, are considered unresolved and long having been the subject of discussion. Inscriptions such as wagnija, niþijo, and harija are supposed to represent tribe names, tentatively proposed to be Vangiones, the Nidensis, and the Harii tribes located in the Rhineland. [17] Since names ending in -io reflect Germanic morphology representing the Latin ending -ius, and the suffix -inius was reflected by Germanic -inio-, [18] [19] the question of the problematic ending -ijo in masculine Proto-Norse would be resolved by assuming Roman (Rhineland) influences, while "the awkward ending -a of laguþewa [20] may be solved by accepting the fact that the name may indeed be West Germanic". [17] In the early Runic period, differences between Germanic languages are generally presumed to be small. Another theory presumes a Northwest Germanic unity preceding the emergence of Proto-Norse proper from roughly the 5th century. [b] [c] An alternative suggestion explaining the impossibility of classifying the earliest inscriptions as either North or West Germanic is forwarded by È. A. Makaev, who presumes a "special runic koine", an early "literary Germanic" employed by the entire Late Common Germanic linguistic community after the separation of Gothic (2nd to 5th centuries), while the spoken dialects may already have been more diverse. [22]

Early inscriptions Edit

Runic inscriptions from the 400-year period 150–550 AD are described as "Period I". These inscriptions are generally in Elder Futhark, but the set of letter shapes and bindrunes employed is far from standardized. Notably the j, s, and ŋ runes undergo considerable modifications, while others, such as p and ï, remain unattested altogether prior to the first full futhark row on the Kylver Stone (c. 400 AD).

Artifacts such as spear heads or shield mounts have been found that bear runic marking that may be dated to 200 AD, as evidenced by artifacts found across northern Europe in Schleswig (North Germany), Fyn, Sjælland, Jylland (Denmark), and Skåne (Sweden). Earlier—but less reliable—artifacts have been found in Meldorf, Süderdithmarschen, northern Germany these include brooches and combs found in graves, most notably the Meldorf fibula, and are supposed to have the earliest markings resembling runic inscriptions.

Magical or divinatory use Edit

The stanza 157 of Hávamál attribute to runes the power to bring that which is dead back to life. In this stanza, Odin recounts a spell:

Þat kann ek it tolfta,
ef ek sé á tré uppi
váfa virgilná,:
svá ek ríst ok í rúnum fák,
at sá gengr gumi
ok mælir við mik. [23]

I know a twelfth one
if I see up in a tree,
a dangling corpse in a noose,
I can so carve and colour the runes,
that the man walks
and talks with me. [24]

The earliest runic inscriptions found on artifacts give the name of either the craftsman or the proprietor, or sometimes, remain a linguistic mystery. Due to this, it is possible that the early runes were not used so much as a simple writing system, but rather as magical signs to be used for charms. Although some say the runes were used for divination, there is no direct evidence to suggest they were ever used in this way. The name rune itself, taken to mean "secret, something hidden", seems to indicate that knowledge of the runes was originally considered esoteric, or restricted to an elite. The 6th-century Björketorp Runestone warns in Proto-Norse using the word rune in both senses:

Haidzruno runu, falahak haidera, ginnarunaz. Arageu haeramalausz uti az. Weladaude, sa'z þat barutz. Uþarba spa. I, master of the runes(?) conceal here runes of power. Incessantly (plagued by) maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who breaks this (monument). I prophesy destruction / prophecy of destruction. [25]

The same curse and use of the word, rune, is also found on the Stentoften Runestone. There also are some inscriptions suggesting a medieval belief in the magical significance of runes, such as the Franks Casket (AD 700) panel.

Charm words, such as auja, laþu, laukaʀ, and most commonly, alu, [26] appear on a number of Migration period Elder Futhark inscriptions as well as variants and abbreviations of them. Much speculation and study has been produced on the potential meaning of these inscriptions. Rhyming groups appear on some early bracteates that also may be magical in purpose, such as salusalu and luwatuwa. Further, an inscription on the Gummarp Runestone (500–700 AD) gives a cryptic inscription describing the use of three runic letters followed by the Elder Futhark f-rune written three times in succession. [27]

Nevertheless, it has proven difficult to find unambiguous traces of runic "oracles": although Norse literature is full of references to runes, it nowhere contains specific instructions on divination. There are at least three sources on divination with rather vague descriptions that may, or may not, refer to runes: Tacitus's 1st-century Germania, Snorri Sturluson's 13th-century Ynglinga saga, and Rimbert's 9th-century Vita Ansgari.

The first source, Tacitus's Germania, [28] describes "signs" chosen in groups of three and cut from "a nut-bearing tree", although the runes do not seem to have been in use at the time of Tacitus' writings. A second source is the Ynglinga saga, where Granmar, the king of Södermanland , goes to Uppsala for the blót . There, the "chips" fell in a way that said that he would not live long (Féll honum þá svo spánn sem hann mundi eigi lengi lifa). These "chips", however, are easily explainable as a blótspánn (sacrificial chip), which was "marked, possibly with sacrificial blood, shaken, and thrown down like dice, and their positive or negative significance then decided." [29] [ page needed ]

The third source is Rimbert's Vita Ansgari, where there are three accounts of what some believe to be the use of runes for divination, but Rimbert calls it "drawing lots". One of these accounts is the description of how a renegade Swedish king, Anund Uppsale, first brings a Danish fleet to Birka, but then changes his mind and asks the Danes to "draw lots". According to the story, this "drawing of lots" was quite informative, telling them that attacking Birka would bring bad luck and that they should attack a Slavic town instead. The tool in the "drawing of lots", however, is easily explainable as a hlautlein (lot-twig), which according to Foote and Wilson [30] would be used in the same manner as a blótspánn.

The lack of extensive knowledge on historical use of the runes has not stopped modern authors from extrapolating entire systems of divination from what few specifics exist, usually loosely based on the reconstructed names of the runes and additional outside influence.

A recent study of runic magic suggests that runes were used to create magical objects such as amulets, [31] [ page needed ] but not in a way that would indicate that runic writing was any more inherently magical, than were other writing systems such as Latin or Greek.

Medieval use Edit

As Proto-Germanic evolved into its later language groups, the words assigned to the runes and the sounds represented by the runes themselves began to diverge somewhat and each culture would create new runes, rename or rearrange its rune names slightly, or stop using obsolete runes completely, to accommodate these changes. Thus, the Anglo-Saxon futhorc has several runes peculiar to itself to represent diphthongs unique to (or at least prevalent in) the Anglo-Saxon dialect.

Nevertheless, that the Younger Futhark has 16 runes, while the Elder Futhark has 24, is not fully explained by the 600-some years of sound changes that had occurred in the North Germanic language group. [32] [ self-published source? ] The development here might seem rather astonishing, since the younger form of the alphabet came to use fewer different rune signs at the same time as the development of the language led to a greater number of different phonemes than had been present at the time of the older futhark. For example, voiced and unvoiced consonants merged in script, and so did many vowels, while the number of vowels in the spoken language increased. From c. 1100 AD, this disadvantage was eliminated in the medieval runes, which again increased the number of different signs to correspond with the number of phonemes in the language.

Some later runic finds are on monuments (runestones), which often contain solemn inscriptions about people who died or performed great deeds. For a long time it was presumed that this kind of grand inscription was the primary use of runes, and that their use was associated with a certain societal class of rune carvers.

In the mid-1950s, however, approximately 670 inscriptions, known as the Bryggen inscriptions, were found in Bergen. [33] These inscriptions were made on wood and bone, often in the shape of sticks of various sizes, and contained inscriptions of an everyday nature—ranging from name tags, prayers (often in Latin), personal messages, business letters, and expressions of affection, to bawdy phrases of a profane and sometimes even of a vulgar nature. Following this find, it is nowadays commonly presumed that, at least in late use, Runic was a widespread and common writing system.

In the later Middle Ages, runes also were used in the clog almanacs (sometimes called Runic staff, Prim, or Scandinavian calendar) of Sweden and Estonia. The authenticity of some monuments bearing Runic inscriptions found in Northern America is disputed most of them have been dated to modern times.

Runes in Eddic lore Edit

In Norse mythology, the runic alphabet is attested to a divine origin (Old Norse: reginkunnr). This is attested as early as on the Noleby Runestone from c. 600 AD that reads Runo fahi raginakundo toj[e'k]a. , meaning "I prepare the suitable divine rune. " [34] and in an attestation from the 9th century on the Sparlösa Runestone, which reads Ok rað runaʀ þaʀ rægi[n]kundu, meaning "And interpret the runes of divine origin". [35] In the Poetic Edda poem Hávamál, Stanza 80, the runes also are described as reginkunnr:

Þat er þá reynt,
er þú at rúnum spyrr
inum reginkunnum,
þeim er gerðu ginnregin
ok fáði fimbulþulr,
þá hefir hann bazt, ef hann þegir. [23]

That is now proved,
what you asked of the runes,
of the potent famous ones,
which the great gods made,
and the mighty sage stained,
that it is best for him if he stays silent. [36]

The poem Hávamál explains that the originator of the runes was the major deity, Odin. Stanza 138 describes how Odin received the runes through self-sacrifice:

Veit ek at ek hekk vindga meiði a
netr allar nío,
geiri vndaþr ok gefinn Oðni,
sialfr sialfom mer,
a þeim meiþi, er mangi veit, hvers hann af rótom renn.

I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows from where its roots run. [37]

In stanza 139, Odin continues:

Við hleifi mik seldo ne viþ hornigi,
nysta ek niþr,
nam ek vp rvnar,
opandi nam,
fell ek aptr þaðan.

No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,
downwards I peered
I took up the runes,
screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there. [37]

This passage has been interpreted as a mythical representation of shamanic initial rituals in which the initiate must undergo a physical trial in order to receive mystic wisdom. [38]

In the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula another origin is related of how the runic alphabet became known to humans. The poem relates how Ríg , identified as Heimdall in the introduction, sired three sons— Thrall (slave), Churl (freeman), and Jarl (noble)—by human women. These sons became the ancestors of the three classes of humans indicated by their names. When Jarl reached an age when he began to handle weapons and show other signs of nobility, Ríg returned and, having claimed him as a son, taught him the runes. In 1555, the exiled Swedish archbishop Olaus Magnus recorded a tradition that a man named Kettil Runske had stolen three rune staffs from Odin and learned the runes and their magic.

Elder Futhark (2nd to 8th centuries) Edit

The Elder Futhark, used for writing Proto-Norse, consists of 24 runes that often are arranged in three groups of eight each group is referred to as an Ætt (Old Norse, meaning 'clan, group'). The earliest known sequential listing of the full set of 24 runes dates to approximately AD 400 and is found on the Kylver Stone in Gotland, Sweden.

Most probably each rune had a name, chosen to represent the sound of the rune itself. The names are, however, not directly attested for the Elder Futhark themselves. Germanic pholologists reconstruct names in Proto-Germanic based on the names given for the runes in the later alphabets attested in the rune poems and the linked names of the letters of the Gothic alphabet. For example, the letter /a/ was named from the runic letter called Ansuz. An asterisk before the rune names means that they are unattested reconstructions. The 24 Elder Futhark runes are: [39]

Anglo-Saxon runes (5th to 11th centuries) Edit

The futhorc (sometimes written "fuþorc") are an extended alphabet, consisting of 29, and later 33 characters. It was probably used from the 5th century onwards. There are competing theories as to the origins of the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. One theory proposes that it was developed in Frisia and later spread to England, [ citation needed ] while another holds that Scandinavians introduced runes to England, where the futhorc was modified and exported to Frisia. [ citation needed ] Some examples of futhorc inscriptions are found on the Thames scramasax, in the Vienna Codex, in Cotton Otho B.x (Anglo-Saxon rune poem) and on the Ruthwell Cross.

"Marcomannic runes" (8th to 9th centuries) Edit

A runic alphabet consisting of a mixture of Elder Futhark with Anglo-Saxon futhorc is recorded in a treatise called De Inventione Litterarum, ascribed to Hrabanus Maurus and preserved in 8th- and 9th-century manuscripts mainly from the southern part of the Carolingian Empire (Alemannia, Bavaria). The manuscript text attributes the runes to the Marcomanni, quos nos Nordmannos vocamus, and hence traditionally, the alphabet is called "Marcomannic runes", but it has no connection with the Marcomanni, and rather is an attempt of Carolingian scholars to represent all letters of the Latin alphabets with runic equivalents.

The Birth of Pinyin

At this time, the new Chinese government was considering the need for language reforms. One of those reforms was creating a new romanization system.

The Wade-Giles system was another romanization system already widely in use. This system may be familiar to readers for its alternative spellings for cities such as Beijing, Nanjing, Fuzhou, and Qingdao. (Wade-Giles spells them Peking, Nanking, Foochow, and Tsingtao respectively.) However, this system was ungainly and did not always accurately convey true Chinese pronunciation.

Now a major player in the Chinese government, Zhou Enlai, remembered his old friend Zhou Youguang, whom he had met in Shanghai years before. He recalled that Zhou Youguang had an avocational passion for languages. So he called him to Beijing to lead the committee that was to produce a new romanization system.

Zhou Enlai (left) called Zhou Youguang (right) to Beijing in order to undertake linguistic reforms in 1955.

Zhou Youguang resisted, saying that linguistics was only his hobby, but Zhou Enlai told him, “Everyone is an amateur.”

Unable to refuse the number two leader in China, he moved to Beijing where he began a three-year effort that resulted in the invention of Pinyin.

It turned out that this job change was good for him and protected him from Mao’s fury against intellectuals.

Zhou Youguang said, “Mao disliked greatly the economists — especially economic professors from America. By that time, I had shifted to the line of language and writing. I was not considered a rightist. Very lucky. If I had remained in Shanghai teaching economics, I think I certainly could have been imprisoned for 20 years. A good friend of mine was imprisoned and committed suicide.”

However, even his contribution to the history of Chinese linguistics could not protect him from the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. In 1969, the government sent him to work in a labor camp, where he toiled in rice paddies for two years.


Reading by using phonics is often referred to as decoding words, sounding-out words or using print-to-sound relationships. Since phonics focuses on the sounds and letters within words (i.e. sublexical), [9] it is often contrasted with whole language (a word-level-up philosophy for teaching reading) and a compromise approach called balanced literacy (the attempt to combine whole language and phonics).

Some phonics critics suggest that learning phonics prevents children from reading "real books". However, the Department of Education in England says children should practice phonics by reading books consistent with their developing phonic knowledge and skill and, at the same time they should hear, share and discuss "a wide range of high-quality books to develop a love of reading and broaden their vocabulary". [8] In addition, researchers say that "the phonological pathway is an essential component of skilled reading" and "for most children it requires instruction, hence phonics". [10] Some recommend 20–30 minutes of daily phonics instruction in grades K-2 about 200 hours. [11]

The National Reading Panel in the United States concluded that systematic phonics instruction is more effective than unsystematic phonics or non-phonics instruction. [12] Some critics suggest that systematic phonics is "skill and drill" with little attention to meaning. However, researchers point out that this impression is false. Teachers can use engaging games or materials to teach letter-sound connections, and it can also be incorporated with the reading of meaningful text. [13]

History Edit

The term phonics during the 19th century and into the 1970s was used as a synonym of phonetics. The use of the term in reference to the method of teaching is dated to 1901 by the Oxford English Dictionary. The relationship between sounds and letters is the backbone of traditional phonics.

This principle was first presented by John Hart in 1570. Prior to that children learned to read through the ABC method, by which they recited the letters used in each word, from a familiar piece of text such as Genesis. [14] It was John Hart who first suggested that the focus should be on the relationship between what is now referred to as graphemes and phonemes.

Phonemic awareness Edit

Phonics is different from phonemic awareness (PA), the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual spoken sounds — unrelated to their letters. PA, a subset of phonological awareness, is strongly related to the learner's oral language skills and is critical in learning to read. [15] To assess PA, or teach it explicitly, learners are given a variety of exercises, such as adding a sound (e.g. Add the th sound to the beginning of the word ink), changing a sound (e.g. In the word sing, change the ng sound to the t sound), or removing a sound (e.g. In the word park, remove the p sound). The most important determinant of a child’s early reading success is their knowledge of spoken language. [16] Phonemic awareness is sometimes taught separately from phonics and at other times it is the result of phonics instruction (i.e. segmenting or blending phonemes with letters). [17] [18] [19]

The alphabetic principle (also: The alphabetic code) Edit

English spelling is based on the alphabetic principle. In the education field it is also referred to as the alphabetic code. [20] [21] [22] [23] In an alphabetic writing system, letters are used to represent speech sounds, or phonemes. For example, the word cat is spelled with three letters, c, a, and t, each representing a phoneme, respectively, / k / , / æ / , and / t / . [24] [25]

The spelling structures for some alphabetic languages, such as Spanish, Russian and especially German, are comparatively orthographically transparent, or orthographically shallow, because there is nearly a one-to-one correspondence between sounds and the letter patterns that represent them. English spelling is more complex, a deep orthography, partly because it attempts to represent the 40+ phonemes of the spoken language with an alphabet composed of only 26 letters (and no accent marks or diacritics). As a result, two letters are often used together to represent distinct sounds, referred to as digraphs. For example, t and h placed side by side to represent either / θ / as in math or / ð / as in father.

English has absorbed many words from other languages throughout its history, usually without changing the spelling of those words. As a result, the written form of English includes the spelling patterns of many languages (Old English, Old Norse, Norman French, Classical Latin and Greek, as well as numerous modern languages) superimposed upon one another. [26] These overlapping spelling patterns mean that in many cases the same sound can be spelled differently (e.g. tr ay and break) and the same spelling can represent different sounds (e.g. room and book). However, the spelling patterns usually follow certain conventions. [27] In addition, the Great Vowel Shift, a historical linguistic process in which the quality of many vowels in English changed while the spelling remained as it was, greatly diminished the transparency of English spelling in relation to pronunciation.

The result is that English spelling patterns vary considerably in the degree to which they follow rules. For example, the letters ee almost always represent / iː / (e.g. meet), but the sound can also be represented by the letters e, i and y and digraphs ie, ei, or ea (e.g. she, sardine, sunny, chief, seize, eat). Similarly, the letter cluster ough represents / ʌ f / as in enough, / oʊ / as in though, / uː / as in through, / ɒ f / as in cough, / aʊ / as in bough, / ɔː / as in bought, and / ʌ p / as in hiccough, while in slough and lough, the pronunciation varies.

Although the patterns are inconsistent, when English spelling rules take into account syllable structure, phonetics, etymology and accents, there are dozens of rules that are 75% or more reliable. [28] This level of reliability can only be achieved by extending the rules far outside the domain of phonics, which deals with letter-sound correspondences, and into the morphophonemic and morphological domains.

The following are a selection of the alternative spellings of the 40+ sounds of the English language based on General American English pronunciation, recognizing there are many regional variations. Teachers of synthetic phonics emphasis the letter sounds not the letter names (i.e. mmm not em, sss not ess, fff not ef). It is usually recommended that teachers of English-reading introduce the "most frequent sounds" and the "common spellings" first and save the more infrequent sounds and complex spellings for later. (e.g. the sounds /s/ and /t/ before /v/ and /w/ and the spellings cake before eight and cat before duck). [29] [30] [31] [32]

Long vowels: a - cake, play, maid, break, eight e - bee, eat, funny, she, scene, key i - bike, find, night, my, tie o - pony, rope, bow, boat, toe, dough u - cube, uniform, few oo - room, flu, suit, soup, grove ow - house, clown, plough oy - toy, oil

R-controlled vowels: air - chair, care, very, carry, pear, where ar - art ear - fear, steer, here er - butter, word, bird, color, turkey, earth or - sort, roar, floor, core, four, quart ure - cure, tourist

Complex consonants and digraphs:

ch - chair, watch k+s 1 - box, books, ducks, lakes k+w 1 - queen -ul - table, animal, camel ng - spring sh - show, lotion, chef, mission th - think th - them g+z 1 - exam, exist z-h - vision, treasure

1 Clearly, "k+s", "k+w" and "g+z" each have two sounds that are blended together. However, they are often taught in this fashion to make it easier for the learner to understand the sounds of "x" and "qu".

The following is an explanation of many of the phonics patterns.

Vowel phonics patterns Edit

  • Short vowels are the five single letter vowels, a, e, i, o, and u, when they produce the sounds / æ / as in cat, / ɛ / as in bet, / ɪ / as in sit, / ɒ / or / ɑː / as in hot, and / ʌ / as in cup. The term "short vowel" is historical, and meant that at one time (in Middle English) these vowels were pronounced for a particularly short period of time currently, it means just that they are not diphthongs like the long vowels.
  • Long vowels have the same sound as the names of the vowels, such as / eɪ / in bay, / iː / in bee, / aɪ / in mine, / oʊ / in no, and / j uː / in use. The way that educators use the term "long vowels" differs from the way in which linguists use this term. Careful educators use the term "long vowel letters" or "long vowels", not "long vowel sounds", since four of the five long vowels (long vowel letters) in fact represent combinations of sounds (a, i, o, and u i.e. / eɪ / in bay, / aɪ / in mine, / oʊ / in no, and / j uː / in use) and only one consists of a single vowel sound that is long ( / iː / in bee), which is how linguists use the term. In classrooms, long vowels are taught as having "the same sounds as the names of the letters". Teachers teach the children that a long vowel "says its name".
  • Schwa is the third sound that most of the single vowel spellings can represent. It is the indistinct sound of many a vowel in an unstressed syllable, and is represented by the linguistic symbol / ə / it is the sound of the o in lesson, of the a in sofa. Although it is the most common vowel sound in spoken English, schwa is not always taught to elementary school students because some find it difficult to understand. However, some educators make the argument that schwa should be included in primary reading programs because of its vital importance in the correct pronunciation of English words. are syllables in which a single vowel letter is followed by a consonant. In the word button, both syllables are closed syllables (but . ton) because they contain single vowels followed by consonants. Therefore, the letter u represents the short sound / ʌ / . (The o in the second syllable makes the / ə / sound because it is an unstressed syllable.) are syllables in which a vowel appears at the end of the syllable. The vowel will say its long sound. In the word basin, ba is an open syllable and therefore says / b eɪ / .
  • Diphthongs are linguistic elements that fuse two adjacent vowel sounds. English has four common diphthongs. The commonly recognized diphthongs are / aʊ / as in cow and / ɔɪ / as in boil. Three of the long vowels are also in fact combinations of two vowel sounds, in other words diphthongs: / aɪ / as in "I" or mine, / oʊ / as in no, and / eɪ / as in bay, which partly accounts for the reason they are considered "long".
  • Vowel digraphs are those spelling patterns wherein two letters are used to represent a vowel sound. The ai in sail is a vowel digraph. Because the first letter in a vowel digraph sometimes says its long vowel sound, as in sail, some phonics programs once taught that "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." This convention has been almost universally discarded owing to the many non-examples, such as the au spelling of the / ɔː / sound and the oo spelling of the / uː / and / ʊ / sounds, neither of which follow this pattern.
  • Vowel-consonant-E spellings are those wherein a single vowel letter, followed by a consonant and the letter e makes the long vowel sound. The tendency is often referred to as "the silent E" or "the magic E" with examples such as bake, theme, hike, cone, and cute. (The ee spelling, as in meet is sometimes, but inconsistently, considered part of this pattern.)
  • R-controlled syllables include those wherein a vowel followed by an r has a different sound from its regular pattern. For example, a word like car should have the pattern of a "closed syllable" because it has one vowel and ends in a consonant. However, the a in car does not have its regular "short" sound ( / æ / as in cat) because it is controlled by the r. The r changes the sound of the vowel that precedes it. Other examples include: park, horn, her, bird, and burn.
  • The Consonant-le syllable is a final syllable, located at the end of the base/root word. It contains a consonant, followed by the letters le. The e is silent and is present because it was pronounced in earlier English and the spelling is historical. Examples are: candle, stable and apple.

Consonant phonics patterns Edit

  • Consonant digraphs are those spellings wherein two letters are used to represent a single consonant phoneme. The most common consonant digraphs are ch for / tʃ / , ng for / ŋ / , ph for / f / , sh for / ʃ / , th for / θ / and / ð / . Letter combinations like wr for / r / and kn for / n / are technically also consonant digraphs, although they are so rare that they are sometimes considered patterns with "silent letters".
  • Short vowel+consonant patterns involve the spelling of the sounds / k / as in peek, / dʒ / as in stage, and / tʃ / as in speech. These sounds each have two possible spellings at the end of a word, ck and k for / k / , dge and ge for / dʒ / , and tch and ch for / tʃ / . The spelling is determined by the type of vowel that precedes the sound. If a short vowel precedes the sound, the former spelling is used, as in pick, judge, and match. If a short vowel does not precede the sound, the latter spelling is used, as in took, barge, and launch.

These patterns are just a few examples out of dozens that can be used to help learners unpack the challenging English alphabetic code. While complex, many believe English spelling does retain order and reason.

Combining phonics with other literacy instruction Edit

There are many ways that phonics is taught and it is often taught together with some of the following: oral language skills, [35] [36] concepts about print, [37] phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, phonology, oral fluency, vocabulary, syllables, reading comprehension, spelling, word study, [38] [39] [40] cooperative learning, multisensory learning, and guided reading. And, phonics is often featured in discussions about science of reading, [41] [42] and evidence-based practices.

The National Reading Panel (U.S.A. 2000) suggests that phonics be taught together with phonemic awareness, oral fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Timothy Shanahan, a member of that panel, suggests that primary students receive 60–90 minutes per day of explicit, systematic, literacy instruction time and that it be divided equally between a) words and word parts (e.g. letters, sounds, decoding and phonemic awareness), b) oral reading fluency, c) reading comprehension, and d) writing. [43] Furthermore, he states that "the phonemic awareness skills found to give the greatest reading advantage to kindergarten and first-grade children are segmenting and blending". [44]

The Ontario Association of Deans of Education (Canada) published research Monograph # 37 entitled Supporting early language and literacy with suggestions for parents and teachers in helping children prior to grade one. It covers the areas of letter names and letter-sound correspondence (phonics), as well as conversation, play-based learning, print, phonological awareness, shared reading, and vocabulary. [45]

Effectiveness of programs Edit

Some researchers report that teaching reading without teaching phonics is harmful to large numbers of students yet not all phonics teaching programs produce effective results. The reason is that the effectiveness of a program depends on using the right curriculum together with the appropriate approach to instruction techniques, classroom management, grouping, and other factors. [46]

Interest in evidence-based education appears to be growing. [47] In 2019, Best evidence encyclopedia (BEE) released a review of research on 48 different programs for struggling readers in elementary schools. [48] Many of the programs used phonics-based teaching and/or one or more of the following: cooperative learning, technology-supported adaptive instruction (see Educational technology), metacognitive skills, phonemic awareness, word reading, fluency, vocabulary, multisensory learning, spelling, guided reading, reading comprehension, word analysis, structured curriculum, and balanced literacy (non-phonetic approach).

The BEE review concludes that a) outcomes were positive for one-to-one tutoring, b) outcomes were positive but not as large for one-to-small group tutoring, c) there were no differences in outcomes between teachers and teaching assistants as tutors, d) technology-supported adaptive instruction did not have positive outcomes, e) whole-class approaches (mostly cooperative learning) and whole-school approaches incorporating tutoring obtained outcomes for struggling readers as large as those found for one- to-one tutoring, and benefitted many more students, and f) approaches mixing classroom and school improvements, with tutoring for the most at-risk students, have the greatest potential for the largest numbers of struggling readers.

Robert Slavin, of BEE, goes so far as to suggest that states should "hire thousands of tutors" to support students scoring far below grade level - particularly in elementary school reading. Research, he says, shows "only tutoring, both one-to-one and one-to-small group, in reading and mathematics, had an effect size larger than +0.10 . averages are around +0.30", and "well-trained teaching assistants using structured tutoring materials or software can obtain outcomes as good as those obtained by certified teachers as tutors". [49]

What works clearinghouse allows you to see the effectiveness of specific programs. For example, as of 2020 they have data on 231 literacy programs. If you filter them by grade 1 only, all class types, all school types, all delivery methods, all program types, and all outcomes you receive 22 programs. You can then view the program details and, if you wish, compare one with another. [50]

Evidence for ESSA [51] (Center for Research and Reform in Education) [52] offers free up-to-date information on current PK-12 programs in reading, writing, math, science, and others that meet the standards of the Every Student Succeeds Act (U.S.A.). [53]

Sight words and sight vocabulary Edit

Sight words (i.e. high-frequency or common words) are not a part of the phonics method. [54] They are usually associated with whole language and balanced literacy where students are expected to memorize common words such as those on the Dolch word list and the Fry word list (e.g. a, be, call, do, eat, fall, gave, etc.). [55] The supposition (in whole language) is that students will learn to read more easily if they memorize the most common words they will encounter, especially words that are not easily decoded (i.e. exceptions). However, according to research, whole-word memorisation is "labor-intensive", requiring on average about 35 trials per word. [56]

On the other hand, phonics advocates say that most words are decodable, so comparatively few words have to be memorized. And because a child will over time encounter many low-frequency words, "the phonological recoding mechanism is a very powerful, indeed essential, mechanism throughout reading development". [57] Furthermore, researchers suggest that teachers who withhold phonics instruction to make it easier on children “are having the opposite effect” by making it harder for children to gain basic word-recognition skills. They suggest that learners should focus on understanding the principles of phonics so they can recognize the phonemic overlaps among words (e.g. have, had, has, having, haven't, etc.), making it easier to decode them all. [58] [59] [60]

Sight vocabulary is a part of the phonics method. It describes words that are stored in long-term memory and read automatically. Skilled fully-alphabetic readers learn to store words in long-term memory without memorization (i.e. a mental dictionary), making reading and comprehension easier. The process, called orthographic mapping, involves decoding, crosschecking, mental marking and rereading. It takes significantly less time than memorization. This process works for fully-alphabetic readers when reading simple decodable words from left to right through the word. Irregular words pose more of a challenge, yet research in 2018 concluded that "fully-alphabetic students" learn irregular words more easily when they use a process called hierarchical decoding. In this process, students, rather than decode from left to right, are taught to focus attention on the irregular elements such as a vowel-digraph and a silent-e for example, break (b - r - ea - k), height (h - eigh - t), touch (t - ou - ch), and make (m - a- ke). Consequentially, they suggest that teachers and tutors should focus on "teaching decoding with more advanced vowel patterns before expecting young readers to tackle irregular words". [56] [61]

Systematic phonics Edit

Systematic phonics is not one specific method of teaching phonics it is a term used to describe phonics approaches that are taught explicitly and in a structured, systematic manner. [1] They are systematic because the letters and the sounds they relate to are taught in a specific sequence, as opposed to incidentally or on a "when needed" basis.

Systematic phonics is sometimes mischaracterized as "skill and drill" with little attention to meaning. However, researchers point out that this impression is false. Teachers can use engaging games or materials to teach letter-sound connections, and it can also be incorporated with the reading of meaningful text. [13]

Phonics can be taught systematically in a variety of ways, such as: synthetic phonics, analytic phonics and analogy phonics. However, their effectiveness vary considerably because the methods differ in such areas as the range of letter-sound coverage, the structure of the lesson plans, and the time devoted to specific instructions. [62]

Systematic phonics has gained increased acceptance in different parts of the world since the completion of two major studies into teaching reading one in the United States in 2000 [63] [64] and the other in the UK in 2006. [65]

In 2009, the UK Department of Education published a curriculum review that added support for systematic phonics. In fact, systematic phonics in the UK is known as Synthetic phonics. [66] Beginning as early as 2014, several States in the United States have changed their curriculum to include systematic phonics instruction in elementary school. [67] [68] [69] [70] In 2018, the State Government of Victoria, Australia, published a website containing a comprehensive Literacy Teaching Toolkit including Effective Reading Instruction, Phonics, and Sample Phonics Lessons. [71]

Synthetic phonics Edit

Synthetic phonics, also known as blended phonics, is a method employed to teach students to read by sounding out the letters then blending the sounds to form the word. This method involves learning how letters or letter groups represent individual sounds, and that those sounds are blended to form a word. For example, shrouds would be read by pronouncing the sounds for each spelling, sh,r,ou,d,s (IPA / ʃ , r , aʊ , d , z / ), then blending those sounds orally to produce a spoken word, sh - r - ou - d - s= shrouds (IPA / ʃ r aʊ d z / ). The goal of either a blended phonics or synthetic phonics instructional program is that students identify the sound-symbol correspondences and blend their phonemes automatically. Since 2005, synthetic phonics has become the accepted method of teaching reading (by phonics instruction) in the United Kingdom and Australia. In the United States, a pilot program using the Core Knowledge Early Literacy program that used this type of phonics approach showed significantly higher results in K-3 reading compared with comparison schools. [72] In addition, several States such as California, Ohio, New York and Arkansas, are promoting the principles of synthetic phonics (see synthetic phonics in the USA).

Analytic phonics Edit

Analytic phonics does not involve pronouncing individual sounds (phonemes) in isolation and blending the sounds, as is done in synthetic phonics. Rather, it is taught at the word level and students learn to analyze letter-sound relationships once the word is identified. For example, students analyze letter-sound correspondences such as the ou spelling of / aʊ / in shrouds. Also, students might be asked to practice saying words with similar sounds such as ball, bat and bite. Furthermore, students are taught consonant blends (separate, adjacent consonants) as units, such as break or shrouds. [73]

Analogy phonics Edit

Analogy phonics is a particular type of analytic phonics in which the teacher has students analyze phonic elements according to the speech sounds (phonograms) in the word. For example, a type of phonogram (known in linguistics as a rime) is composed of the vowel and the consonant sounds that follow it (e.g. in the words cat, mat and sat, the rime is "at".) Teachers using the analogy method may have students memorize a bank of phonograms, such as -at or -am, or use word families (e.g. can, ran, man, or may, play, say). [74] [75]

Embedded phonics with mini-lessons Edit

Embedded phonics, also known as Incidental phonics, is the type of phonics instruction used in whole language programs. It is not systematic phonics. Although phonics skills are de-emphasised in whole language programs, some teachers include phonics "mini-lessons" when students struggle with words while reading from a book. Short lessons are included based on phonics elements the students are having trouble with, or on a new or difficult phonics pattern that appears in a class reading assignment. The focus on meaning is generally maintained, but the mini-lesson provides some time for focus on individual sounds and the letters that represent them. Embedded phonics is different from other methods because instruction is always in the context of literature rather than in separate lessons about distinct sounds and letters and skills are taught when an opportunity arises, not systematically. [76] [77] [78]

Phonics through spelling Edit

For some teachers this is a method of teaching spelling by using the sounds (phonemes). [79] However, it can also be a method of teaching reading by focusing on the sounds and their spelling (i.e. phonemes and syllables). It is taught systematically with guided lessons conducted in a direct and explicit manner including appropriate feedback. Sometimes mnemonic cards containing individual sounds are used to allow the student to practice saying the sounds that are related to a letter or letters (e.g. a, e, i, o, u). Accuracy comes first, followed by speed. The sounds may be grouped by categories such as vowels that sound short (e.g. c-a-t and s-i-t). When the student is comfortable recognizing and saying the sounds, the following steps might be followed: a) the tutor says a target word and the student repeats it out loud, b) the student writes down each individual sound (letter) until the word is completely spelled, saying each sound as it is written, and c) the student says the entire word out loud. An alternate method would be to have the student use mnemonic cards to sound-out (spell) the target word.

Typically, the instruction starts with sounds that have only one letter and simple CVC words such as sat and pin. Then it progresses to longer words, and sounds with more than one letter (e.g. hear and day), and perhaps even syllables (e.g. wa-ter). Sometimes the student practices saying (or sounding-out) cards that contain entire words. [80]

Resources for phonics instruction Edit

Governments and non-profit organizations around the world offer phonics instruction resources for teachers, tutors and parents. Not surprisingly, they often overlap with instruction on related areas such as ‘’phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and multi-sensory learning’’. The following are some examples:

  • Sample phonics lessons - Victoria State Government, Australia [81]
  • Phonological awareness - Victoria State Government, Australia [18]
  • Effective reading instruction - Victoria State Government, Australia [82]
  • Teaching practices for reading and viewing - Victoria State Government, Australia [83]
  • Teachers’ Professional Development Guide - Professional Development Service for Teachers, Ireland [84]
  • Phonics teaching materials - Department of Education, UK [86]
  • Letters and Sounds: Principles and Practice of High Quality Phonics - Department of Education, UK [87]
  • Learning to read through phonics: Information for parents - Department of Education, UK [88]
  • Linking sounds to letters, blending sounds and reading for understanding (kindergarten to grade three) - Regional Educational Laboratory Program at Florida State University (REL) [89][90]
  • Phonics instruction - The National Center on Intensive Intervention, United States [91]
  • Between the Lions Early Reading (Phonics, phonemic awareness, etc.) - PBS Learning Media [92]
  • Explaining phonics instruction: an educators guide - International Literacy Association [93]
  • Explaining Phonics Instruction - Reading Rockets [5]
  • Phoneme Segmentation - The National Center on Intensive Intervention [94]
  • Advanced phonic-analysis: Kindergarten to Grade 1 - California Public Schools [95]
  • Pedagogy: Grades Two and Three - California Public Schools [96]
  • Supporting Reading Skills at Home - Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Education [97]
  • Reading Foundational Skills: Phoneme-Grapheme correspondences - Common Core State Standards, United States, pg. 17 [98]
  • Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade - Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S. Department of Education, [99]
  • Supporting family involvement in foundational reading skills - Regional Educational Laboratory Program at Florida State University (REL) [100]
  • Foundational reading skills - Timothy Shanahan (educator)[101]
  • Parents' guide to student success - Ohio department of education [102]
  • Phonological awareness - PALS, Virginia, EDU, United States [103][104][105]
  • Fluency - The National Center on Intensive Intervention, [106]
  • Reading for understanding (comprehension) - Regional Educational Laboratory Program at Florida State University (REL) [107]
  • Essentials of assessing, preventing and overcoming reading difficulties - David Kilpatrick, Arkansas, Gov., [108]
  • Kindergarten Teacher's Guide: Supporting Family Involvement in Foundational Reading Skills - Regional Educational Laboratory Program at Florida State University (REL) [109]
  • Developing Language - Regional Educational Laboratory Program at Florida State University (REL) [110]
  • 10 Key Reading Practices for All Elementary Schools - The University of Texas at Austin [111]
  • Self-study guide for implementing literacy interventions in Grades 3-8 - Regional Educational Laboratory Program at Florida State University (REL) [112]
  • Summer Reading Camp: Self-Study Guide - Florida Center for Reading Research At Florida State University [113]

A debate has been going on for decades about the merits of phonics vs. whole language. It is sometimes referred to as the Reading Wars. [114] [115]

Until the mid-1800s, phonics was the accepted method in the United States to teach children to read. Then, in 1841 Horace Mann, the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, advocated for a whole-word method of teaching reading to replace phonics. Rudolf Flesch advocated for a return to phonics in his book Why Johnny Can't Read (1955). The whole-word method received support from Kenneth J. Goodman who wrote an article in 1967 entitled Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game. [116] Although not supported by scientific studies, the theory became very influential as the whole language method. [117] [118] Since the 1970s some whole language supporters such as Frank Smith (psycholinguist), are unyielding in arguing that phonics should be taught little, if at all. [119]

Yet, other researchers say instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness are "critically important" and "essential" to develop early reading skills. [120] [121] [122] In 2000, the National Reading Panel (U.S.A.) identified five ingredients of effective reading instruction, of which phonics is one the other four are phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. [123] Reports from other countries, such as the Australian report on Teaching reading (2005) [124] and the U.K. Independent review of the teaching of early reading (Rose Report 2006) have also supported the use of phonics.

Some notable researchers have clearly stated their disapproval of whole language. Cognitive neuroscientist, Stanislas Dehaene, said "cognitive psychology directly refutes any notion of teaching via a 'global' or 'whole language' method." He goes on to talk about "the myth of whole-word reading" (also: sight words), saying it has been refuted by recent experiments. "We do not recognize a printed word through a holistic grasping of its contours, because our brain breaks it down into letters and graphemes." [125] Mark Seidenberg refers to Whole Language as a "theoretical zombie" because it persists in spite of a lack of supporting evidence. [126]

Furthermore, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology compared teaching with phonics vs. teaching whole written words and concluded that phonics is more effective. It states "Our results suggest that early literacy education should focus on the systematicities present in print-to-sound relationships in alphabetic languages, rather than teaching meaning-based strategies, in order to enhance both reading aloud and comprehension of written words". [127]

More recently, some educators have advocated for the theory of balanced literacy purported to combine phonics and whole language yet not necessarily in a consistent or systematic manner. It may include elements such as word study and phonics mini-lessons, differentiated learning, cueing, leveled reading, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading and sight words. [128] [129] [130] [131] According to a survey in 2010, 68% of K-2 teachers in the United States practice balanced literacy however, only 52% of teachers included phonics in their definition of balanced literacy. In addition, 75% of teachers teach the three-cueing system (i.e., meaning/structure/visual or semantic/syntactic/graphophonic) that has its roots in whole language. [132] [133]

In addition, some phonics supporters assert that balanced literacy is merely whole language by another name. [134] And critics of whole language and sceptics of balanced literacy, such as neuroscientist Mark Seidenberg, state that struggling readers should not be encouraged to skip words they find puzzling or rely on semantic and syntactic cues to guess words. [120] [135] [136]

Over time a growing number of countries and states have put greater emphasis on phonics and other evidence-based practices (see Practices by country or region below).

Simple view of reading Edit

The simple view of reading is a scientific theory about reading comprehension. The creators of the theory hoped it would help to end the reading wars. According to the theory, in order to comprehend what they are reading students need both decoding skills and oral language comprehension ability neither is enough on their own.

The formula is: Decoding × Oral Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension. [137]

Students are not reading if they can decode words but do not understand their meaning. Similarly, students are not reading if they cannot decode words that they would ordinarily recognize and understand if they heard them spoken out loud. [138] [139]

The following are examples of how phonics is used in some countries:

Australia Edit

On 30 November 2004 Brendan Nelson, Minister for Education, Science and Training, established a National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in Australia. The Inquiry examined the way reading is taught in schools, as well as the effectiveness of teacher education courses in preparing teachers for reading instruction. In the resulting report in 2005, Teaching Reading, the first two recommendations make clear the committee's conviction about the need to base the teaching of reading on evidence and the importance of teaching systematic, explicit phonics within an integrated approach. [140] [141]

The executive summary states, "The evidence is clear . that direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read. Findings from the research evidence indicate that all students learn best when teachers adopt an integrated approach to reading that explicitly teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension." The Inquiry Committee also states that the apparent dichotomy between phonics and the whole-Language approach to teaching "is false". However, it goes on to say "It was clear, however, that systematic phonics instruction is critical if children are to be taught to read well, whether or not they experience reading difficulties." [142]

In the executive summary it goes on to say the following:

"Overall we conclude that the synthetic phonics approach, as part of the reading curriculum, is more effective than the analytic phonics approach, even when it is supplemented with phonemic awareness training. It also led boys to reading words significantly better than girls, and there was a trend towards better spelling and reading comprehension. There is evidence that synthetic phonics is best taught at the beginning of Primary 1, as even by the end of the second year at school the children in the early synthetic phonics programme had better spelling ability, and the girls had significantly better reading ability."

As of October 5, 2018, The State Government of Victoria, Australia, publishes a website containing a comprehensive Literacy Teaching Toolkit including Effective Reading Instruction, Phonics, and Sample Phonics Lessons. [143] [144] [145] It contains elements of synthetic phonics, analytical phonics, and analogy phonics.

In 2016 Australia ranked 21st in the PIRLS reading achievement for fourth grade students. [146]

Canada Edit

In Canada, public education is the responsibility of the Provincial and Territorial governments. As in other countries there has been much debate on the value of phonics in teaching reading in English however, phonemic awareness and phonics appears to be receiving some attention. The curriculum of all of the Canadian provinces include some of the following: phonics, phonological awareness, segmenting and blending, decoding, phonemic awareness, graphophonic cues, and letter-sound relationships. [160] In addition, systematic phonics and synthetic phonics receive attention in some publications. [161] [162] [163] [164]

However, some of the practices of whole language are evident, such as:

  • "consistently using three cueing systems, meaning, structure, and visual" and "using illustrations and prior knowledge to predict meaning", [165]
  • "using cues such as pictures, context, phonics, grammatical awareness and background knowledge" and "use a variety of strategies, such as making predictions, rereading and reading on", [166]
  • "using the cueing systems to construct meaning from the text", [167]
  • "use syntactic, semantic, and graphophonic cues to construct and confirm meaning in context", [168]
  • "predict the meaning of and solve unfamiliar words using different types of cues, including: semantic (meaning) cues, syntactic (language structure) cues, and graphophonic (phonological and graphic) cues, [169]
  • "use of pictures and other graphic representations to interpret texts", [170]
  • "cueing systems (pragmatics, syntax, semantics and graphophonics)", [171]
  • "cueing systems (context, meaning, structure and visual)", [172]
  • "predict on the basis of what makes sense, what sounds right, and what the print suggests", [173]
  • "balanced literacy program" and "search for and use meaning and structure and/or visual information (MSV)", [174] and
  • "use and integrate, with support, the various cueing systems (pragmatic, semantic, syntactic, and graphophonic). [175]

Consequentially, there appears to be no evidence of a comprehensive or systematic practice of phonics in Canada's public schools.

In 2016, amongst 50 countries, Canada ranked 23rd in the PIRLS reading achievement for fourth grade students. [176]

In 2018, Canada ranked 6th out of 78 countries in the PISA reading scores for 15-year-old students. [177]

England Edit

There has been a resurgence of interest in synthetic phonics in recent years, particularly in England. As of 2013, all (local-authority-maintained) primary schools in England have a statutory requirement to teach synthetic phonics in years one and two. In addition, any pupil who is struggling to decode words properly by year three must "urgently" receive help through a "rigorous and systematic phonics programme". [178]

Prior to that, synthetic phonics was promoted by a cross-party group of Parliamentarians, particularly Nick Gibb MP. A report by the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee called for a review of the phonics content in the National Curriculum. Subsequently, the Department for Education and Skills announced a review into early years reading, headed by Sir Jim Rose, former Director of Inspection for Ofsted (responsible for the education standards in the UK). [179] The review, entitled Independent review of the teaching of early reading (Rose Report 2006), addresses the question of why children's reading and writing (especially for boys) have not been meeting expectations. Paragraph 3.25 of the Final Report states "This suggests that it is far more often the nature of the teaching than the nature of the child which determines success or failure in learning the 'basic' skills of reading and writing.” It goes on to say it is not suggesting teachers are unable or unwilling to develop the required expertise, only that there has been systematic confusion and conflicting views about phonics. It also makes it clear that, when it comes to the wider knowledge and skills required for reading and writing, phonics work is "necessary but not sufficient". [180] It concludes by suggesting the challenge will be resolved as research continues to support systematic phonics, and that teacher training and systematic phonics programs will produce "good results for children". [181] [182]

By November 2010, a government white paper contained plans to train all primary school teachers in phonics. [183] The 2013 curriculum [184] has "statutory requirements" that, amongst other things, students in years one and two be capable in using systematic synthetic phonics in regards to Word Reading, Reading Comprehension, Fluency, and Writing. This includes having skills in "sound to graphemes", "decoding", and "blending". Following this, Ofsted updated their guidance for school inspectors in 2014 to include tips on how schools should teach reading with systematic phonics, including "Getting them Reading Early". It includes a description of the simple view of reading as the word recognition processes (recognizing the words on the page, free of context and using phonics) and the language recognition processes (understanding the meaning of the language). It also includes some videos to illustrate its principles. [185] [186]

In 2015, the Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training (published by the Department for Education calls for evidence-based teaching to be part of the framework for initial teacher training. [187] It gives an example of a case study in which "trainees on the Early Reading placement are required to work alongside a literacy specialist to plan and teach a phonics lesson to a group, evaluate the lesson and deliver a second lesson in light of their evaluation".

The 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) awarded England its best results since the studies began in 2001. Nick Gibb attributes this success to the use of systematic synthetic phonics. [188] In March of that year the Secretary of State for Education released a report entitled Educational Excellence Everywhere. The report states that in 2010 33% percent of primary school students did not achieve the expected standard in reading, however "since the introduction of the phonics reading check in 2012", that number is down to 20%. The report goes on to say they still have much to do, particularly with students who are disadvantaged. [189] [190] [191] The phonics check involves pupils reading aloud 40 words (including 20 non-words). In 2016, 81 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard of 32 correct words – up from 77 per cent in 2015. [192]

In 2016 the London School of Economics published a paper supporting the teaching of synthetic phonics to disadvantaged children because it helps to close the literacy gap. [193] [194]

In 2018 Ofsted, as part of its curriculum research, has produced a YouTube video on Early Reading. It states "It is absolutely essential that every child master the phonic code as quickly as possible . So, successful schools firstly teach phonics first, fast and furious." [195]

In January, 2019 Ofsted published a report entitled Education inspection framework: overview of research that further supports systematic synthetic phonics together with phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. [196]

While there has been concern expressed about the phonics screening test at the end of year one, some report that phonics is especially valuable for poor readers and those without English as a first language. [197]

Finland Edit

Before the beginning of compulsory education a Finnish child must participate in one year of preprimary education, and compulsory education usually starts at age 7. Some suggest that most Finnish children are reading before they start school. [198]

In grades one and two, students in Finland develop their reading skills by practicing techniques in the areas of sound–letter correspondence (phonics) breaking down speech into words, syllables, and sounds word recognition spelling daily reading and writing and comprehension strategies. [199]

In 2016, amongst 50 countries, Finland ranked 5th in Reading Achievement for fourth-graders according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). [200]

France Edit

There has been a strong debate in France on the teaching of phonics ("méthode syllabique") versus whole language ("méthode globale"). After the 1990s, supporters of the later started defending a so-called "mixed method" (also known as Balanced literacy) in which approaches from both methods are used. France is home to some of the most influential researchers in psycho-pedagogy, cognitive sciences and neurosciences, such as Stanislas Dehaene [201] and Michel Fayol. These researchers have studied the problem from the perspective of their sciences and put their heavy scientific weight on the side of phonics.

More recently, with the appointment of the academic Jean-Michel Blanquer as minister of education, the ministry created a science educational council [202] chaired by Dehaene. This council openly supported phonics. In April 2018, the minister issued a set of four guiding documents [203] for early teaching of reading and mathematics and a booklet [204] detailing phonics recommendations. Teachers unions and a few educationalists were very critical of his stances, [205] and classified his perspective as "traditionalist", trying to bring the debate to the political sphere. But Blanquer has openly declared that the so-called mixed approach is no serious choice. [206]

In 2016, France is slightly above average in Reading Achievement for fourth-graders according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). [207]

Hungary Edit

The official language and the language of instruction in the Republic of Hungary is the Hungarian language. However, in 2010 4.6% of minority students (Croatians, Germans, Romanians, Serbians, Slovaks, and Slovenes) attended minority operated mother tongue, bilingual, or language teaching schools or kindergartens. [208]

Crèche (nursery school) in Hungary is a "welfare institution" catering for children aged 20 weeks to 3 years and providing professional day care and development. In addition, kindergarten education and care is free and compulsory for children aged 3–6. Socially disadvantaged children are given priority in enrolment. Pre-school programmes focus on developing children's emergent literacy skills through play rather than systematic training in phonics or teaching the alphabet.

According to the PIRLS Encyclopedia, the Ministry of Education does not explicitly recommend one particular reading method over another, however all the accredited textbook series use the "sounding-analyzing method". The European Literacy Policy Network (ELINET) 2016 [209] reports that Hungarian children in grades one and two receive explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics "as the route to decode words". In grades three and four they continue to apply their knowledge of phonics, however the emphasis shifts to the more meaning-focused technical aspects of reading and writing (i.e., vocabulary, types of texts, reading strategies, spelling, punctuation and grammar). [210]

In 2016, amongst 50 countries, Hungary achieved the 13th highest score in reading literacy for fourth graders according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). [211] 19% of their students performed at or below the low benchmark on overall reading, just above the EU average of 20%. [212]

Ireland Edit

The school curriculum in Ireland focuses on ensuring children are literate in both the English language and the Irish language. In 2011, the Department of Education and Skills (Ireland) developed a national strategy to improve literacy and numeracy. [213] The 2014 teachers’ Professional Development guide [214] covers the seven areas of attitude and motivation, fluency, comprehension, word identification, vocabulary, phonological awareness, phonics, and assessment. It recommends that phonics be taught in a systematic and structured way and is preceded by training in phonological awareness.

In 2016, amongst 50 countries, Ireland achieved the 4th highest score in Reading Literacy for fourth graders according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). [215]

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 2018 showed Ireland's 15-year-old students were significantly above average in reading, science and mathematics. [216]

The 2019 Primary Language Curriculum specifies that reading outcomes must include phonics, phonological awareness, and phonemic awareness. [217]

Latin America and the Caribbean Edit

According to the 2019 Campbell Systematic Reviews approximately 250 million children across the world are not acquiring basic reading and math skills, even though about 50% of them have spent at least 4 years in school (UNESCO 2014). [218] And, more than 60% of third‐grade students in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have only achieved basic reading skills, in part because of the lack of evidence‐based training, preparation and support for teachers.

The review summarizes the findings of 107 studies of early grade literacy interventions (EGL) in LAC. They conclude that teacher training, nutrition, and technology‐in‐education programs on average do not show positive effects on EGL outcomes in the LAC region. However, some factors have the potential for positive impacts including combining teacher training with coaching, targeting school feeding and other nutrition programs to low‐income countries with high rates of stunting and wasting, and combining technology‐in‐education programs with a strong focus on pedagogical practices.

They also suggest that "the quantitative nonintervention studies indicate that phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension are associated with reading ability", and that the poor reading levels of children . "may be the consequence of not providing them with adequate instructions on meta-phonological strategies and explicit and systematic phonics". However, the available studies are unable to provide conclusive evidence on the effects of teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension on reading ability, suggesting a need for even more high-quality research.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS 2016) describes the special reading initiatives in Trinidad and Tobago. [219] In 2013, the National Commission for UNESCO launched the Leading for Literacy project to develop the literacy skills of grade 1 and 2 students. The project facilitates the training of primary school teachers in the use of a synthetic phonics program.

From 2013 to 2015, the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Education appointed seven reading specialist to help primary and secondary school teachers improve their literacy instruction. From February 2014 to January 2016, literacy coaches were hired in selected primary schools to assist teachers of kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2 with pedagogy and content of early literacy instruction. Primary schools have been provided with literacy resources for instruction, including phonemic awareness, word recognition, vocabulary manipulatives, phonics and comprehension.

New Zealand Edit

As of 2018, the Ministry of Education in New Zealand has online information to help teachers to support their students in years 1–3 in relation to sounds, letters, and words. It has specific suggestions in the areas of oral language, phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, phonemes and phonics. There are also examples and recommended books concerning phonics instruction, hearing sounds in spoken words, syllables, phoneme blending, onset and rime, and sounds and letters (initial, ending and medial). In its introduction it states that phonics instruction "is not an end in itself" and it is not necessary to teach students "every combination of letters and sounds". [220]

New Zealand's score (523) in the 2016 PIRLS report on the reading achievement of fourth grade students was above the average of 500 and below other English speaking countries such as Canada (543), United States (549), England (559), Northern Ireland (565) and Ireland (567). [221]

Northern Ireland Edit

In 2007 the Department of Education (DE) in Northern Ireland was required by law to teach children foundational skills in phonological awareness and the understanding “that words are made up of sounds and syllables and that sounds are represented by letters (phoneme/grapheme awareness)”. [222] In 2010 the DE went further by outlining a new strategy with standards requiring that teachers receive support in using evidence-based practices to teach literacy and numeracy. It outlined ten requirements, including a “systematic programme of high-quality phonics” that is explicit, structured, well-paced, interactive, engaging, and applied in a meaningful context. [223]

In 2016, amongst 50 countries, Northern Ireland achieved the 7th highest score in Reading Literacy for fourth graders according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). [224]

In 2018, in the PISA Reading Performance of 15-year-old students, Northern Ireland students achieved a score of 505 as compared to England at 507 and the OECD average of 487. [225]

Norway Edit

Norwegian is Norway's main language and English is taught beginning in grade one. [226] Children enter first grade in August of the year they turn age 6. The majority of students are enrolled in public school as opposed to private school.

In the Norwegian curriculum, basic skills include "decoding and comprehension of simple texts" (i.e. phonics). At the end of grade two students are expected to demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between "speech sound and letter". [227]

In 2016, amongst 50 countries, Norway achieved the 8th highest score in Reading Literacy for fourth graders according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS)., [228] and 20th out of 78 for 15-year-olds in PISA 2018. [229]

Poland Edit

The national curriculum of Poland considers reading to be the main goal of primary education, defining it as the technical skill of "decoding graphemes into phonemes and understanding, using, and processing written texts" (i.e. phonics). [230] Instruction often consists of telling students how things should be done instead of letting them experiment for themselves and experience the results. According to researchers, teachers seldom use the internet and other digital technologies during reading instruction. Polish schools do not have trained reading specialists, however speech and educational therapists are available to assist students with special needs or learning disabilities. In 1998 a national campaign was introduced to encourage parents to read aloud to their children for 20 minutes every day. [231]

In 2014, 10.6% of 15 year-olds had underachievement in reading, lower than the EU average of 17.8%. [232] Beginning in 2014, a program to provide free schoolbooks was introduced gradually across Poland. Students’ socioeconomic background was a matter of concern in 2015, and six year-olds commenced compulsory schooling in that year.

According to the 2000 International Student Assessment (PISA) 15‑year‑old Polish students read significantly below the OECD average. However, with a renewed emphasis on reading, by 2018 Poland made the most progress in reading since 1994 and Poles ages 16 to 19 exceeded their European peers in reading (10th out of 72 countries in PISA).

Poland ranked 6th in the 2016 PIRLS 4th grade reading achievement. [233]

Portugal Edit

During the late 1990s the whole language approach gained popularity in Portugal, but in a non-explicit form. Emphasis was placed on meaning, reading for pleasure, and developing a critical approach to the texts. Explicit phonemic awareness and explicit training for reading fluency were considered outdated by some teachers' organizations. [234]

Poor results in international comparisons led parents and schools to react to this approach and to insist on direct instruction methods. Later, during minister Nuno Crato’s tenure (2011–2015), who is known to be a vocal critic of constructivist approaches and a supporter of cognitive psychology findings, new standards ("metas") were put in place. [235] The ministry convened a team led by a well-known specialist in reading, José Morais. [236] This team introduced an explicit phonics teaching approach, putting emphasis on decoding and reading fluency.

Later, international evaluations TIMSS and PISA showed a sharp improvement in the areas of math, reading and science from 2006 to 2015. Portuguese students results raised to above OECD and IEA [237] averages, attaining the best results ever for Portugal. The PISA reading results moved from 472 to 498, above the United States at 497. However, by 2018 Portugal had dropped slightly to 492 and the United States had increased to 505. Some analysts explain these advances by the educational measures Portugal put in place: a more demanding curricula, the emphasis on direct teaching, standardized testing, less ability streaming, and explicit fluency training in reading and mathematics. [238]

In 2016, amongst 50 countries, Portugal achieved the 30th highest score in Reading Literacy for fourth graders according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). [239]

Russian Federation Edit

According to one report in the Baltimore Sun, there is some debate in the Russian Federation about phonics vs. whole language, however Olga Viktorovna Pronina, an author and teacher in Moscow, allegedly said that today, most teachers in Russia would tell you they use phonics. [240]

The 2016 international PISA study states that the method widely used now to teach reading in the Russian Federation was developed by the famous psychologist Daniil Elkonin in the 1960s. It says, "students learn to define the sequence of sounds in a word and characterize each sound . acquiring the knowledge of the phonetic system at an early stage" and "become better familiarized with the skills of reading". [241]

In 1959, a journal report adds more details about how phonics is used. It says other observers report that the Russian system in beginning reading is "strictly phonetic". However, there are no separate phonics lessons, drill periods, drill books, exercises or "gadgets" as you might see in typical American schools. Instead, each new letter-sound is introduced at once in meaningful words the children can pronounce as soon as they know the sound of the new letter. There are no "blending" of the sounds, or "crutches" such as equating the sound of /s/ with a snake. Instead, "all learning is by eye and ear in tandem", and the association is formed solely between the printed symbol and its sound. And finally, each lesson makes use of exercises to confirm comprehension. [242] [243]

Amongst 50 countries, the Russian Federation achieved the highest score (581) in Reading Literacy for fourth graders according to the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). [244]

Scotland Edit

Synthetic phonics in Scotland has its roots in the Clackmannanshire Report, a seven-year study that was published in 2005. It compared analytic Phonics with synthetic Phonics and advantaged students with disadvantaged children. The report found that, using synthetic phonics, children from lower socio-economic backgrounds performed at the same level as children from advantaged backgrounds in primary school (whereas with analytic phonics teaching, they did significantly less well.) and boys performed better than or as well as girls. [245]

A five-year follow-up of the study concluded that the beneficial effects were long-lasting, in fact the reading gains increased. [246]

Subsequently, Education Scotland concluded that explicit, systematic phonics programs, usually embedded in a rich literacy environment, give an additional four months progress over other programs such as whole language, and are particularly beneficial for young learners (aged 4–7). There is evidence, though less secure, that synthetic phonics programs may be more beneficial than analytic phonics programs however it is most important to teach systematically. [247]

In the PISA 2018 reading results of 15-year-old students, Scotland's score was above average, 504 as compared to the OECD average of 487. [248] Scotland does not participate in PIRLS.

Singapore Edit

Singapore has a diverse language environment with four official languages including English which is the language of education and administration. Bilingualism is the "cornerstone" of the education system where students learn both English and their own mother tongue language in school. [249] 99% of children attend preschool education (as early as 18 months of age) although it is not compulsory in Singapore. [250]

The 2001 English Language Syllabus of Singapore advocated "a balance between decoding and meaning-based instruction … phonics and whole language". However, a review in 2006 advocated for a "systematic" approach. The subsequent syllabus, in 2010, had no mention of whole language and recommended a balanced, interactive and comprehensive reading programme. It refers to Learning to Read: The Great Debate by Jeanne Chall (1967) and the National Reading Panel (2000) both of which supported systematic phonics and the International Literacy Association (2005) that supported balanced instruction saying phonics is "necessary but insufficient".

The syllabus for 2010 advocates for a balance between "systematic and explicit instruction" and "a rich language environment". It called for increased instruction in oral language skills together with phonemic awareness and the key decoding elements of synthetic phonics, analytic phonics and analogy phonics. Specifically, it advocated for instruction in phonic's areas such as word families and rimes (e.g. jumps and jumped bite and kite), segmenting and blending (e.g. / k / , / æ / , / t / = cat), vowels, consonants and syllables. And finally, it called for instruction in word study, grammar, vocabulary, writing and comprehension. [251]

Singapore received the second highest reading score (576) after the Russian Federation (581) in the 2016 PIRLS report on grade four students. [252]

Sweden Edit

Since the 1860s it was "taken for granted" that phonics is a major part of reading instruction in the first school years in Sweden. However, in the 1990s the National Agency for Education (Sweden) encouraged teachers to try other methods, including whole language.

Sweden's performance in the international fourth grade reading assessments (PIRLS) dropped by 19 points from 2001 (561) to 2011 (542) and recovered by 13 points in 2016 (555), still lower than the 2001 results. [253]

Some suggest that the lower scores are related to the increase in immigration. [254]

In 2016 the European Literacy Policy Network (ELINET) [255] published a report on literacy in Sweden saying there is an “urgent need” to address decreases in performance as measured by PIRLS and PISA. [256]

United States Edit

As a matter of interest, in 2016 amongst 50 countries, the United States achieved the 15th highest score in Reading Literacy for fourth graders according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). [257] Of 78 countries, the United States ranked 14th in reading for the international PISA study for 15-year-old students. [258] In 2019, with respect to the nation's grade-four public school students, 34% performed at or above the Nations Report Card "proficient level" (solid academic performance) and 65% performed at or above the NAEP "basic level" (partial mastery of the proficient level skills) [259]

More than a century of debate has occurred over whether English phonics should or should not be used in teaching beginning reading.

The use of phonics in education in the United States dates at least to the work of Favell Lee Mortimer, whose works using phonics includes the early flashcard set Reading Disentangled (1834) [260] and text Reading Without Tears (1857). Despite the work of 19th-century proponents such as Rebecca Smith Pollard, some American educators, prominently Horace Mann, argued that phonics should not be taught at all. This led to the commonly used "look-say" approach ensconced in the Dick and Jane readers popular in the mid-20th century. Beginning in the 1950s, however, inspired by a landmark study by Dr. Harry E. Houtz, [261] and spurred by Rudolf Flesch's criticism of the absence of phonics instruction (particularly in his book, Why Johnny Can't Read- 1955) and Jeanne Chall (the author of Learning to Read the Great Debate - 1967-1995 [262] phonics resurfaced as a method of teaching reading.

In the 1980s, the "whole language" approach to reading further polarized the debate in the United States. Whole language instruction was predicated on the principle that children could learn to read given (a) proper motivation, (b) access to good literature, (c) many reading opportunities, (d) focus on meaning, and (e) instruction to help students use semantic, syntactic and graphophonic cues to "guess" the pronunciation of unknown words. Also, in practice children are often taught to use pictures to guess a word. For some advocates of whole language, phonics was antithetical to helping new readers to get the meaning they asserted that parsing words into small chunks and reassembling them had no connection to the ideas the author wanted to convey. [263]

The whole language emphasis on identifying words using context and focusing only a little on the sounds (usually the alphabet consonants and the short vowels) could not be reconciled with the phonics emphasis on individual sound-symbol correspondences. Thus, a dichotomy between the whole language approach and phonics emerged in the United States causing intense debate. Ultimately, this debate led to a series of Congressionally-commissioned panels and government-funded reviews of the state of reading instruction in the U.S.

In 1984, the National Academy of Education commissioned a report on the status of research and instructional practices in reading education, Becoming a Nation of Readers. [264] Among other results, the report includes the finding that phonics instruction improves children's ability to identify words. It reports that useful phonics strategies include teaching children the sounds of letters in isolation and in words, and teaching them to blend the sounds of letters together to produce approximate pronunciations of words. It also states that phonics instruction should occur in conjunction with opportunities to identify words in meaningful sentences and stories.

In 1990, Congress asked the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to compile a list of available programs on beginning reading instruction, evaluating each in terms of the effectiveness of its phonics component. As part of this requirement, the ED asked Dr. Marilyn J. Adams to produce a report on the role of phonics instruction in beginning reading. This resulted in her 1994 book Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. [265] In the book, Adams asserted that existing scientific research supported that phonics is an effective way to teach students the alphabetic code - building their skills in decoding unknown words. By learning the alphabetic code, she argued, students can free up mental energy used for word analysis and devote this mental effort to meaning, leading to stronger comprehension. Furthermore, she suggested that students be encouraged not to skip words they find difficult. Instead they should take the time to study the challenging words and to reread sentences after they have succeeded in decoding them. She also concluded that while phonics instruction is a necessary component of reading instruction, it is not sufficient by itself. Children should also have practice reading text provided they do not make too many mistakes. In spite of her study, the argument about how to teach reading eventually known as "the Great Debate," continued unabated.

In 1996 the California Department of Education took an increased interest in using phonics in schools. [266] And in 1997 the department called for grade one teaching in concepts about print, phonemic awareness, decoding and word recognition, and vocabulary and concept development. [267]

In 1997, Congress asked the Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, to convene a national panel to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read.

The National Research Council re-examined the question of how best to teach reading to children (among other questions in education) and in 1998 published the results in the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children. [268] The National Research Council's findings largely matched those of Adams. They concluded that phonics is a very effective way to teach children to read at the word level, more effective than what is known as the "embedded phonics" approach of whole language (where phonics was taught opportunistically in the context of literature). They found that phonics instruction must be systematic (following a sequence of increasingly challenging phonics patterns) and explicit (teaching students precisely how the patterns worked, e.g., "this is b, it stands for the /b/ sound"). [269]

In 2000 the findings of the National Reading Panel was published. It examined quantitative research studies on many areas of reading instruction, including phonics and whole language. The resulting report Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and its Implications for Reading Instruction provides a comprehensive review of what is known about best practices in reading instruction in the U.S. [270] The panel reported that several reading skills are critical to becoming good readers: phonemic awareness, phonics for word identification, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. With regard to phonics, their meta-analysis of hundreds of studies confirmed the findings of the National Research Council: teaching phonics (and related phonics skills, such as phonemic awareness) is a more effective way to teach children early reading skills than is embedded phonics or no phonics instruction. [271] The panel found that phonics instruction is an effective method of teaching reading for students from kindergarten through 6th grade, and for all children who are having difficulty learning to read. They also found that phonics instruction benefits all ages in learning to spell. They also reported that teachers need more education about effective reading instruction, both pre-service and in-service.

The State driven Common Core State Standards Initiative was developed in 2009, because of a lack of standardization of education principles and practices. [272] The site has a comprehensive description of the specific details of the English Language Arts Standards that include the areas of the Alphabetic Principle, Print Concepts, Phonological Awareness, Phonics and Word Recognition, and Fluency. [273] It is up to the individual States and School Districts to develop plans to implement the standards. As of 2020, 41 States had adopted the standards, and in most cases it has taken three or more years to have them implemented. [274] For example, Wisconsin adopted the standards in 2010, implemented them in the 2014–2015 school year, yet in 2020 the state Department of Public Instruction was in the process of developing materials to support the standards in teaching phonics. [275] [276]

The State of Mississippi passed the Literacy-Based Promotion Act in 2013 in part because of the States' poor showing in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. [277] [278] The Mississippi Department of Education provides resources for teachers in the areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and reading strategies. [279] In 2019 Mississippi made a bigger advance in reading than any other State. [280] [281]

In 2014 the California Department of Education stated "Ensuring that children know how to decode regularly spelled one-syllable words by mid-first grade is crucial". It goes on to say that "Learners need to be phonemically aware (especially able to segment and blend phonemes)". [282] In grades two and three children receive explicit instruction in advanced phonic-analysis and reading multi-syllabic and more complex words. [283]

In 2015 the New York State Public School system began a process to revise its English Language Arts Learning Standards. The new standards call for teaching involving "reading or literacy experiences" as well as phonemic awareness from prekindergarten to grade 1 and phonics and word recognition from grade 1 to grade 4. [284]

In 2015 the Ohio Legislature set minimum standards requiring the use of phonics as a technique in teaching reading. It includes guidelines for teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. [285] [286] [287] In February 2017, the Ohio Department of Education adopted new learning standards for English Language Arts. They include Reading Standards for Foundational Skills K–12 that clearly lay out a systematic approach to teaching phonological awareness in kindergarten and grade one, and grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words (including fluency and comprehension) in grades one through five. [288]

In 2016 the What Works Clearinghouse [289] and the Institute of Education Sciences, an independent and non-partisan arm of the U.S. Department of Education, published an Educator's Practice Guide (with evidence) on Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade. [290] It contains four recommendations to support reading: 1) Teach students academic language skills, including the use of inferential and narrative language, and vocabulary knowledge, 2) Develop awareness of the segments of sounds in speech and how they link to letters (phonemic awareness and phonics), 3) Teach students to decode words, analyze word parts, and write and recognize words (phonics and synthetic phonics), and 4) Ensure that each student reads connected text every day to support reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. Some universities have created additional material based on this guide [291] [292]

In 2016, Colorado Department of Education updated their Elementary Teacher Literacy Standards with a comprehensive outline including standards for development in the areas Phonology Phonics and Word Recognition Fluent Automatic Reading Vocabulary Text Comprehension and Handwriting, Spelling, and Written Expression. [293]

In 2017, research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology has shown that learning to read by sounding out words (i.e. phonics) has a dramatic impact on the accuracy of reading aloud and comprehension. [294] It concludes that early literacy education should focus on the systematic approach in "print-to-sound relationships" in alphabetic languages, rather than teaching "meaning-based strategies", in order to enhance both reading aloud and comprehension of written words.

In 2018 The Association for Psychological Science published an article entitled Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert. The purpose of the article is to fill the gap between the current research knowledge and the public understanding about how we learn to read, and to explain "why phonics instruction is so central to learning in a writing system such as English". [295]

In 2018 the Arkansas Department of Education, Literacy Support Unit, published a report about their new initiative known as R.I.S.E., Reading Initiative for Student Excellence, that was the result of The Right to Read Act, passed in 2017. [296] The first goal of this initiative is to provide educators with the in-depth knowledge and skills of "the science of reading" and evidence-based instructional strategies. [297] This includes a change of focus to research-based instruction on phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Specific requirements are that reading instruction be systematic and explicit, and include decoding techniques. [298] Part of the instruction involves the use of a book and study guide entitled Essentials of Assessing, Preventing and Overcoming Reading Difficulties, by David Kilpatrick. [299]

In 2018 the Minnesota Reading Corps (MRC) [300] published impact evaluation reports of their reading programs for children in pre-kindergarten to grade three (2017–2018). MRC is a participating organization under Americorps in which volunteers tutor at-risk students who need extra support in reading and math. The tutors are trained to use research-based literacy activities and interventions as identified by the National Reading Panel, including phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The reports, presented by NORC at the University of Chicago, compare the results of students in the MRC program with students in control groups. They found that MRC kindergarten students achieved significantly higher scores in letter-sound fluency, and MRC first grade students achieved significantly higher scores in both nonsense word fluency and oral reading fluency. [301]

In 2019 the Minnesota Department of Education introduced standards requiring school districts to "develop a Local Literacy Plan to ensure that all students have achieved early reading proficiency by no later than the end of third grade" in accordance with a Statute of the Minnesota Legislature requiring elementary teachers to be able to implement comprehensive, scientifically based reading and oral language instruction in the five reading areas of phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. [302] [303]

In 2019 the International Literacy Association released a report entitled Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction [304] The report clearly supports the use of phonics instruction that is explicit and systematic, stating that "phonics instruction is helpful for all students, harmful for none, and crucial for some". It also offers an opinion on the ten most common causes of Phonics Instructional Failure, namely: inadequate time devoted to mastering a new phonics skill such as blending (4–6 weeks recommended) lack of application to real reading instruction inappropriate reading material to practice the skills too much teacher instruction, and too little reading by the student lost time during instructional transitions the teacher's attitude and knowledge of phonics instructional material lessons that are not fast-paced and rigorous lack of assessments over an extended period of time waiting too long to transition to multi-syllable words and over emphasis of phonics drills at the expense of other aspects such as vocabulary.

In 2019 the Best Evidence Encyclopedia, [305] part of Johns Hopkins University, release a review of research on 61 studies of 48 different programs for struggling readers in elementary schools. [306] The vast majority were done in the United States, the programs are replicable, and the studies, done between 1990 and 2018, had a minimum duration of 12 weeks. Many of the programs used phonics-based teaching and/or one or more of the following: cooperative learning, technology-supported adaptive instruction (see Educational technology), metacognitive skills, phonemic awareness, word reading, fluency, vocabulary, multisensory learning, spelling, guided reading, reading comprehension, word analysis, structured curriculum, and balanced literacy (non-phonetic approach). Significantly, table 5 (pg. 88) shows the mean weighted effect sizes [307] of the programs by the manner in which they were conducted (i.e. by school, by classroom, by technology-supported adaptive instruction, by one-to-small-group tutoring, and by one-to-one tutoring). Table 8 (pg. 91) lists the 22 programs meeting ESSA standards for strong and moderate ratings, and their effect size. The review concludes that 1) outcomes were positive for one-to-one tutoring, 2) outcomes were positive but not as large for one-to-small group tutoring, 3) there were no differences in outcomes between teachers and teaching assistants as tutors, 4) technology-supported adaptive instruction did not have positive outcomes, 5) whole-class approaches (mostly cooperative learning) and whole-school approaches incorporating tutoring obtained outcomes for struggling readers as large as those found for one- to-one tutoring, and benefitted many more students, and 6) approaches mixing classroom and school improvements, with tutoring for the most at-risk students, have the greatest potential for the largest numbers of struggling readers.

In 2019, 52.8% of Louisiana's third-graders scored at or above the State's reading benchmark. [308] Also in 2019, 26% of grade 4 students were reading at a proficiency level according to the Nation's Report Card. [309] In that same year, the Louisiana State Legislature passed resolution 222 urging the Department of Education to create the Early Literacy Commission to make recommendations to implement a system providing effective evidence-based reading instruction for children from birth through third grade. [310] [311] On March 8, 2019, the Louisiana Department of Education revised their curriculum for K-12 English Language Arts. Its Reading Standards for Foundational Skills includes requirements for instruction in the alphabetic principle, phonological awareness, phonics and word recognition, fluency and comprehension. [312] Effective in 2020 The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) screens for the following skills: Kindergarten-Phonemic Awareness First Grade-Phonics Second Grade-Oral Reading Fluency and Third Grade-Reading Comprehension. [313]

Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and Turkish. What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Hello! I am a Freshman at an American university and I study Arabic, but I was wondering just a few moments ago: What makes Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and Turkish similar? What makes them different?

I ask this simply because they look the same to me. Perhaps I am missing something quite important relating to the exact placement of words and letters, but for all intents and purposes to me, they look the same. I am quite intrigued by the similarities between these languages in the writings of them, as to what I could find showed them as being relatively dissimilar, but the Wikipedia articles didn't quite explain it in a manner I could really understand, and so I came here to look into exactly what I was searching for.

And, knowing me, there are probably some languages that also resemble Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Turkish etc. that I am leaving out. I don't mean to disrespect, it's simply that those are the ones I could come up with off the top of my head.

As this is my first post to this community, I wanted to offer some background as I am not clear on whether I am qualified per the rules to answer this question: I am not a linguist by training though I am a native Urdu speaker who learnt a bit of Arabic in my childhood (as any 'good' Muslim does to read the Quran). I understand an ok amount of Farsi because of the pervasiveness of heavily-Persianized Urdu poetry in South Asia (Farsi was the language of the Mughal court).

First off, pre-Ataturk Turkish script is similar to Arabic, Farsi and Urdu but modern Turkish is not. Further, despite borrowing many words from Arabic, Turkish derives from Oghuz, a very different language system than the Semitic or Indo-European system of Arabic or Farsi/Urdu respectively. So, I'll leave Turkish aside for the moment, also for the fact that I don’t speak it at all.

Your first comment is spot on in that Arabic, Farsi, and Urdu look the same because they are all based on the modified Arabic script (though you could probably tell that the scripts are stylistically different because they are: Naskh vs Nastaliq). Also, Arabic has 28 letters in the alphabet while Farsi has 32 and Urdu has 38 (or 32or 52 or 58 depending on who is counting) so if you can read Urdu, as I can, you can read Farsi and Arabic, though your pronunciation of some letters and entire words will be totally off. To draw an imperfect analogy, consider the Romance languages with their shared heritage in Latin (analogous to ancient Quranic Arabic), similar scripts but different languages, with some heavily influenced but originating from other language systems (English, with its Germaic roots and French vocabulary, for instance, would be analogous to Urdu, with its Sanskrit roots and Farsi/Arabic vocabulary).

Despite a decent amount of words flowing from Arabic -> Farsi -> Urdu, and in the case of Farsi/Urdu, the same Indo-European language heritage, each languages is mutually incomprehensible to its speakers.

To understand why this is all so, you have to understand the history of the region, which is quite complex but a succinct, relevant version is: when conquered populations converted to Islam, they adapted their native language to the script and words of the Quran (i.e. Arabic). So, Farsi, due the Arab conquest and conversion of population to Islam, saw a huge influx of Arabic loan and root words (even the term Farsi is an Arabic mispronunciation of the original "Parsi" because Arabic does not contain the "P" sound) while Urdu, derived from Mongolian/Turkish term "Ordu" meaning "tent/camp/army", came about as the Farsi-speaking Muslim Turks and Persians/Afghans conquered North India and adapted to its multitude of Sanskrit-derived languages. The language of the various courts and bureaucracy was Farsi but gave way to Urdu over time. So, Urdu gets a lot of Farsi and Arabic and a bit of Turkish but still retains its core Indo-European (Sanskrit) roots, to the extent that Urdu and Hindi are the practically the same languages in the vernacular, just written in different scripts.

From what I can understand, pre-Arab conquest Farsi was written in an adapted-Aramaic alphabet (Pahlavi) but, post-Arab conquest, was replaced with the script of the Quran. The same process was repeated in North India by the now-Muslim Persians/Turks/Afghans. There is a lot more to this topic as we can discuss major languages such as Sindhi/Punjabi/Balochi/Pashto/Dari/Tajiki and so on, with complications such as the adaptation of the Russian script by Turkish/Persianized languages in the Russian Empire or even as neighbors in the same village speaking the same language (Sindhi or Punjabi) would write it using different scripts based on their religious identity (Muslim/Hindu/Sikh).

The Five-Minute Linguist

The Five-Minute Linguist provides a lively, reader-friendly introduction to the subject of language suitable for the general reader and beginning students. The book offers brief essays on more than 60 intriguing questions such as “What’s the difference between a language and a dialect?” Can animals understand us?” “What causes foreign accents?” and “How is language used on social media?” These are conveniently organized into 12 topical areas that include What is Linguistics, Language and Thought, Language and Society, and Language and Technology, among others.

Each essay is written by a leading authority in the specialization who offers succinct, insightful answers to questions that most of us have wondered about, with follow-up references to more in-depth reading on each question. The third edition adds new topics now at the forefront of linguistics and updates others, serving as an unrivaled introduction to the mysteries and intrigue of language. The third edition of this book was produced under the sponsorship of the Linguistic Society of America.

Table of Contents

Language and Communication

Language Variation and Change


Everyone knows at least one language, but not everyone has in-depth knowledge of linguistics-i.e., the study of various aspects of human language. Sponsored by the Linguistic Society of America, this informative, entertaining book-a handy introduction for anyone curious about linguistics-is an excellent example of how experts in a specialized discipline can transmit their scholarship to the public sphere. The collection comprises 66 brief essays, grouped into 12 categories, and works like an FAQ on all things language related. Writing in a tone that is casual and occasionally funny, the contributors, recognized authorities on their topics, explain facets of linguistics in an easy-to-understand way. Readers will learn about, for example, where foreign accents originate, how babies learn language, whether texting is affecting English, and why Noam Chomsky is such a big name in the field. (The last of these does an excellent job of summarizing Chomsky's major contributions to linguistics in basic, nontechnical terms.) Originating as a radio series in 2005, The Five-Minute Linguist was first published in 2006, ed. by E. M. Rickerson and Barry Hilton (CH, Jul'07, 44-6071). This latest edition updates essays in the second edition (2012) and adds new entries on social media, gender issues, and other contemporary topics. Each entry includes suggestions for further reading.
Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals general readers.

Reviews of Previous Editions
An excellent, very accessible, and extremely easy- and fun-to-read introduction to some of the basic questions (and misconceptions) regarding language, language learning, and linguistics. The book clearly meets the editors’ intended goals with each essay, the reader is engaged in a five-minute, light and informal conversation about the passionate topic of language.
Linguist List

This book is for anyone who has a question about languages or the nature of language—which means just about all of us. But it’s not just a musty academic text for specialists. While written by leading experts on the subject of language,The Five-Minute Linguist is a user-friendly exploration of the basics, a linguistic start-up kit for general readers. It assumes nothing on your part except interest in the subject. Its bite-sized chapters (no more than 3-4 pages each) give authoritative answers to the most frequently asked questions people have about language, and tell the story in a lively and colloquial style. It is a delightful read.
From the Foreword by Bret Lovejoy, Executive Director, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language

What a gift to those who love language and those who are simply curious about it. Leading experts each tackle an intriguing question, and explain it in straightforward, delightful prose. Read it from cover to cover or keep it by your bed to dip into for endless fascination.
Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics, Georgetown University, and author of You Just Don't Understand

This is a marvellous collection of informative, provocative and stimulating essays. The topics that were selected are both timely, and timeless, and the essays are sure to pique the curiosity of a broad range of readers. The material is accessible and the suggestions for further reading are wonderful pointers to additional exploration. This collection certainly has my five-star recommendation.
G. Richard Tucker, Paul Mellon University Professor of Applied Linguistics, Carnegie Mellon University

. recommended for language majors, and attractive to language afficionados and mavens. Essential.

Each of the 66 chapters of the book contributes to the overall praiseworthiness of the book. While individual chapters were selected to illustrate particular strengths of the book above, there is no implication that the other chapters contribute less to the end product. There are no weak links in the chain, and that is an impressive feat considering the number of chapters in the book. There is every reason to believe that this book will be well received by a wide audience of non-linguists. It is hoped (and expected) that the readership includes interested individuals in the general public as well as students in basic social science or humanities classes where the curriculum has a unit (or units) calling for an introductory knowledge of language/linguistics.
A very solid work, one which sets out to achieve a very worthy goal and indisputably succeeds in that effort.

Every Chapter here is a good read. The price of the paperback edition works out at about 25p per chapter. Well worth the money for any language practitioner who is involved in professional development – their own or that of others.
Language Issues

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1994/2 pp27-30 later designated J17]

A number of readers have been urging republication of The Chaos, the well-known versified catalogue of English spelling irregularities. The SSS Newsletter carried an incomplete, rather rough version in the summer of 1986 (pp.17-21) under the heading "Author Unknown", with a parallel transcription into an early form of Cut Spelling. Since then a stream of further information and textual variants has come our way, culminating in 1993-94 with the most complete and authoritative version ever likely to emerge. The time is therefore now truly ripe for republication in the JSSS.

Our stuttering progress towards the present version is of interest, as it testifies to the poem's continuing international impact. Parts of it turned up from the mid-1980s onwards, with trails leading from France, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey. The chequered career of the first version we received was typical: it consisted of a tattered typescript found in a girls' High School in Germany in 1945 by a British soldier, from whom it passed through various hands eventually to reach Terry De'Ath, who passed it to the SSS but it did not mention who its author was. A rather sad instance of the mystery that has long surrounded the poem is seen in Hubert A Greven's Elements of English Phonology, published in Paris in 1972: its introduction quoted 48 lines of the poem to demonstrate to French students how impossible English is to pronounce (ie, to read aloud), and by way of acknowledgment said that the author "would like to pay a suitable tribute to Mr G Nolst Trenité for permission to copy his poem The Chaos. As he could not find out his whereabouts, the author presents his warmest thanks, should the latter happen to read this book". Alas, the poet in question had died over a quarter of a century earlier.

For the varied materials and information sent us over the years we are particularly indebted to: Terry De'Ath of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Tom McArthur (Editor of English Today) of Cambridge Benno Jost-Westendorf of Recklinghausen, Germany Professor Che Kan Leong of the University of Saskatchewan, Canada the Editor of Perfect Your English, Barcelona and SSS committee member Nick Atkinson for the French reference. From them we learnt who the author was and that numerous versions of the poem were in circulation but many tantalizing questions remained unanswered.

Three contributions in 1993-94 then largely filled in the gaps in the picture. The first of these contributions was due to the diligent research of Belgian SSS member Harry Cohen of Tervuren which outlined the author's life and told us a good deal about the successive editions of the poem. The second came from Bob Cobbing of New River Project (89a Petherton Road, London N5 2QT), who sent the SSS a handsome new edition (ISBN 1 870750 07 1) he had just published in conjunction with the author's nephew, Jan Nolst Trenité, who owns the copyright. This edition had been based on the final version published by the author in his lifetime (1944), and must therefore be considered particularly authoritative. Finally, Jan Nolst Trenité himself went to considerable trouble to correct and fill out the details of his uncle's biography and the poem's publishing history which the SSS had previously been able to compile.

The author of The Chaos was a Dutchman, the writer and traveller Dr Gerard Nolst Trenité. Born in 1870, he studied classics, then law, then political science at the University of Utrecht, but without graduating (his Doctorate came later, in 1901). From 1894 he was for a while a private teacher in California, where he taught the sons of the Netherlands Consul-General. From 1901 to 1918 he worked as a schoolteacher in Haarlem, and published several schoolbooks in English and French, as well as a study of the Dutch constitution. From 1909 until his death in 1946 he wrote frequently for an Amsterdam weekly paper, with a linguistic column under the pseudonym Charivarius.

The first known version of The Chaos appeared as an appendix (Aanhangsel) to the 4th edition of Nolst Trenité's schoolbook Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen (Haarlem: H D Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1920). The book itself naturally used the Dutch spelling current before the 1947 reform (see JSSS 1987/2, pp14-16). That first version of the poem is entitled De Chaos, and gives words with problematic spellings in italics, but it has only 146 lines, compared with the 274 lines we now give (four more than in our 1986 version). The general importance of Drop your foreign accent is clear from the number of editions it went through, from the first (without the poem) in 1909, to a posthumous 11th revised edition in 1961. The last edition to appear during the author's life was the 7th (1944), by which time the poem had nearly doubled its original length. It is not surprising, in view of the numerous editions and the poem's steady expansion, that so many different versions have been in circulation in so many different countries.

The Chaos represents a virtuoso feat of composition, a mammoth catalogue of about 800 of the most notorious irregularities of traditional English orthography, skilfully versified (if with a few awkward lines) into couplets with alternating feminine and masculine rhymes. The selection of examples now appears somewhat dated, as do a few of their pronunciations, indeed a few words may even be unknown to today's readers (how many will know what a "studding-sail" is, or that its nautical pronunciation is "stunsail"?), and not every rhyme will immediately "click" ("grits" for "groats"?) but the overwhelming bulk of the poem represents as valid an indictment of the chaos of English spelling as it ever did. Who the "dearest creature in creation" addressed in the first line, also addressed as "Susy" in line 5, might have been is unknown, though a mimeographed version of the poem in Harry Cohen's possession is dedicated to "Miss Susanne Delacruix, Paris". Presumably she was one of Nolst Trenité's students.

Readers will notice that The Chaos is written from the viewpoint of the foreign learner of English: it is not so much the spelling as such that is lamented, as the fact that the poor learner can never tell how to pronounce words encountered in writing (the poem was, after all, appended to a book of pronunciation exercises). With English today the prime language of international communication, this unpredictability of symbol-sound correspond-ence constitutes no less of a problem than the unpredictability of sound-symbol correspondence which is so bewailed by native speakers of English. Nevertheless, many native English-speaking readers will find the poem a revelation: the juxtaposition of so many differently pronounced parallel spellings brings home the sheer illogicality of the writing system in countless instances that such readers may have never previously noticed.

It would be interesting to know if Gerard Nolst Trenité, or anyone else, has ever actually used The Chaos to teach English pronunciation, since the tight rhythmic and rhyming structure of the poem might prove a valuable mnemonic aid. There could be material for experiments here: non-English- speaking learners who had practised reading parts of the poem aloud could be tested in reading the same problematic words in a plain prose context, and their success measured against a control group who had not practised them through The Chaos.

This version is essentially the author's own final text, as also published by New River Project in 1993. A few minor corrections have however been made, and occasional words from earlier editions have been preferred. Following earlier practice, words with clashing spellings or pronunciations are here printed in italics.

Artificial Languages and Daily Life

There are many artificial languages in the world, made for various purposes. Many of you have perhaps seen LOTR or read the works of J.R.R Tolkien. All the languages depicted in his stories are real languages, and he put a lot of effort into them. In fact, there’s a joke that he didn’t create the languages for the stories, but rather created the stories so he’d have somewhere to use his languages.

The most famous are, of course, Theban and Enochian. Theban is not really a language, but rather a cypher system. Meaning it’s still English, but written with an alternative script. I’m pretty sure the occultist Donald Tyson has also created a similar set of glyphs.

But Enochian is truly unique. It is a complete, comprehensive language, and very similar to the condensed, ancient languages like Sanskrit or Egyptian. Perhaps if one could learn and use it, it would condition our minds to be very much aligned with magick. Sadly, I do not know of any such attempts made to teach the language or use it in daily speech. However, there is still something we can learn from all this.

First, it is entirely possible to create a system of glyphs for your personal use, like Theban is. It is also possible to create or channel a language entirely of your own for magickal use. It may take a little study of linguistics. At the very least, knowing more than one language helps, but Tolkien made several. I don’t see why you can’t make one.

The ancient, sacred languages are condensed and simple. Meaning you can say a lot with just a few words. They are usually written with bloc letters (Hebrew/Sanskrit) or pictorial symbols (Japanese) where each letter/symbol represents a whole concept in and of itself, and words are compounds of concepts, while sentences are an expression of multiple concepts. This is very sophisticated compared to modern, alphabetical language use. We use many words to say little, and lack words to express complex emotions, and express things not as fluid concepts, but as categorical “objects” which all proceed from each other in a linear fashion. We express things as they happened or things as they are, rather than ideas and impressions and emotions. It is very obsessed with categories, labels and the idea of reality being fixed and systematic, with a hard separation between past, present and future. Very un-magickal.

For this I have no remedy, I can only share my own experiences. Reading lots of magickal literature, and especially invocations written by the Golden Dawn, has had an effect on me, and that ornate, grimoire style of English comes very easily to me these days. I mean, yeah, 8 years of study of magickal literature will do that. I find this English to be more refined, and when I go into my ritual space and start doing magick, I can switch to this style of speech almost spontaneously, on a whim.

This is generally the way I speak during ritual, but never in daily life. This keeps the style ‘sacred’ and free of profanity. In daily life, I take a very different approach.
Additionally, I try to avoid speaking about things that I don’t want happening, especially to other people or online. Words have power, and the intention of others has even more power. I also avoid listening to or filling my head with disempowering thoughts, ideas and symbols. I try to use simple, straight forward vocabulary, to keep mainly my own mind clear about what I want and what I mean. I try to speak less, and don’t waste energy talking about pointless things. Sometimes, I do get lost in thought or conversation, but this leaves me a bit drained, and I abstain from speech after this. Finally, learning other languages has helped me open and expand my mind to other ways of thinking about the world. I’ve found Japanese to be especially interesting, and very different from my usual speech. It’s a shame I haven’t had much time to study it since last July.

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