Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Isabelle Liberman et al. publish 'Explicit syllable and phoneme segmentation in the young child', an influential work in the field of reading acquisition

This year, University of Connecticut professor Isabelle Y. Liberman, with the collaboration of Donald Shankweiler, William Fischer and Bonnie Carter published a paper in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology that would become very influential in the field of reading acquisition for several decades. The paper was entitled 'Explicit syllable and phoneme segmentation in the young child'. Below is the abstract of the paper.


To write a language, one must first abstract the unit to be used from the acoustic stream of speech. Writing systems based on the meaningless units, syllables and phonemes, were late developments in the history of written language. The alphabetic system, which requires abstraction of the phonemic unit of speech, was the last to appear, evolved from a syllabary and, unlike the other systems, was apparently invented only once. It might therefore be supposed that phoneme segmentation is particularly difficult and more difficult, indeed, than syllable segmentation. Speech research suggests reasons why this may be so. The present study provides direct evidence of a similar developmental ordering of syllable and phoneme segmentation abilities in the young child. By means of a task which required preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade children to tap out the number of segments in spoken utterances, it was found that, though ability in both syllable and phoneme segmentation increased with grade level, analysis into phonemes was significantly harder and perfected later than analysis into syllables. The relative difficulties of the different units of segmentation are discussed in relation to reading acquisition.


Liberman, Isabelle Y., Donald Shankweiler, F. William Fischer and Bonnie Carter (1974). Explicit syllable and phoneme segmentation in the young child.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 18 (2), 201-212.

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