About

I’m Sue Gerrard. Background in biology, psychology and education. Former teacher at 1980s equivalent of a Free School. Affiliate of Knowledge Modelling Group at Keele University. Interested in systems, how people behave and child development. And developmental disorders and special education.

2 thoughts on “About

  1. “Regardless of relevance to phonics test, when does a string of letters become a word?” Important and difficult question – can’t answer it via Twitter.

    A string of letters, as such is never a word, though obviously a string of letters may represent a word.

    Words themselves are abstract – they have both speech and text representations. Their spellings can change over time. They can be pronounced differently over time, and differently by different groups of people. It is possible (though uncommon) to read a word when you don’t yet know how to pronounce it. I mean that you recognise the word and grasp its meaning.

    And there are interesting questions about how people born deaf recognise and read words,

    Focusing on the text representations of words just for a moment:
    Two kinds of questions.
    (1) When letter sequences can be said to represent a word
    (2) When a child can appreciate that a given letter sequence represents a specific word whose meaning they grasp and that they can pronounce.

    So one or two points about question type (1):-

    Arguably ‘wind’ out of context is not yet a word, since we don’t know whether it’s something of interest to weather forecasters, or something we can do to a clock. And we certainly don’t yet know how to pronounce it.
    This is true of all heteronyms – there are very many of these in English, and lots of them are words commonly found in early reading unless the latter is specially produced to be ‘decodable’ with synthetic phonics.

    Points about question type (2)

    A child encounters ‘his’ out of context. Unless she already recognises this letter sequence as representing the common possessive pronoun ‘his’ in her spoken vocabulary, she may, using synthetic phonics, combine the three letter sounds to form one of two composite sounds – one rhyming with ‘fizz’, and the other with ‘miss’. So, for a child, at least, ‘his’ out of context may well not yet represent a word proper.

    Another similar instance: Unless a child already knows the text version of ‘prints’, she cannot recognise ‘prints’ out of context as a word because it could be royalty or getting words on paper. The sound she can make by ‘decoding’ matches a couple of homophones.

    Nonsense words in Jabberwocky and the like are well on their way to being words since Lear at al give us a context, with syntactical structures and one or two real words to supply context and meaning of a kind.

    According to the notion of a word outlined above, the so-called nonsense words in the phonics check are not words. But then, in my view, neither are the so-called real words words either, even though when employed in context, they can be used to represent real words.

    Enough for now. If you’ve read this far, thanks for your patience.

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