Individual differences in learning the regularities between orthography, phonology and semantics predict early reading skills

Noam Siegelman*, Jay G. Rueckl, Laura M. Steacy, Stephen J. Frost, Mark van den Bunt, Jason D. Zevin, Mark S. Seidenberg, Kenneth R. Pugh, Donald L. Compton, Robin D. Morris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Statistical views of literacy development maintain that proficient reading requires the assimilation of myriad statistical regularities present in the writing system. Indeed, previous studies have tied statistical learning (SL) abilities to reading skills, establishing the existence of a link between the two. However, some issues are currently left unanswered, including questions regarding the underlying bases for these associations as well as the types of statistical regularities actually assimilated by developing readers. Here we present an alternative approach to study the role of SL in literacy development, focusing on individual differences among beginning readers. Instead of using an artificial task to estimate SL abilities, our approach identifies individual differences in children's reliance on statistical regularities as reflected by actual reading behavior. We specifically focus on individuals' reliance on regularities in the mapping between print and speech versus associations between print and meaning in a word naming task. We present data from 399 children, showing that those whose oral naming performance is impacted more by print-speech regularities and less by associations between print and meaning have better reading skills. These findings suggest that a key route by which SL mechanisms impact developing reading abilities is via their role in the assimilation of sub-lexical regularities between printed and spoken language - and more generally, in detecting regularities that are more reliable than others. We discuss the implications of our findings to both SL and reading theories.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number104145
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
StatePublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health (USA) under Grant numbers P01HD070837 , P20HD091013 , and R37HD090153 . The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.


  • Individual differences
  • Print-speech regularities
  • Reading acquisition
  • Statistical learning


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