Phonology and Reading: Key Definitions*

Phonology -- the sound structure of speech, and the perception, recognition, production of speech sounds. Phonological aspects of language include intonation, stress, and timing, as well as words, syllables and phonemes.

Phonemes are speech phonological units that make a difference to meaning.

Phonemic awareness is the insight that every spoken word can be conceived as a sequence of phonemes.

Phonological awareness is a more inclusive term and refers to the general ability to attend to the sounds of language as distinct to meaning, e.g., rhymes, sound similarities among words, counting syllables.

Speech discrimination is distinguished from phonemic awareness because the ability to detect or discriminate even slight differences between two spoken words does not necessarily indicate an awareness of the nature of that difference. Also, many variations in sounds in speech are not significant to meaning.

Phonics refers to instructional practices that emphasize how spellings are related to speech sounds in systematic ways.

Phonological decoding, or decoding refers to deriving a pronunciation for a printed sequence of letters based on knowledge of spelling-sound correspondences.


* source: Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.), Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, p. 52.

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