Vn013

Phonemics

5/23/77


In discussions some weeks ago with a distinguished Genevan psycholinguist, the question of instructing children in phonetics came up. My earlier work on children’s conception of wordhood (‘Pre-Readers’ Concept of the English Word’) and pig-latin (not available) had convinced me that children should learn how to read before delving into phonetics. (Such a point of view is contrary to much current practice in late kindergarten and early first year instruction). My colleague considered it an aberration in American education to emphasize phonetics as an introduction to reading.

Miriam now reads well, at what is generally considered the second grade level (see ‘Miriam at 6: Reading’ for more detailed infor-mation). I speculate confidently that her reading vocabulary is several thousand words. She now knows enough to appreciate the value of knowledge about the correspondence (and lack thereof) between English phonemic and lexical structure. The following observations record the upsurgence of Miriam’s interest in phonemic variation:

In the spring and summer of last year, one of Miriam’s favorite games was bouncing on my knees. We would sing the familiar chant:

Ride a horse to Boston,
Ride a horse to Lynn.
Careful when you get there,
Don’t fall in!

The child rides facing the bouncer, whose knees are the horse. On the last line, the adult separates his knees, and the child tries not to “fall in.” Boston was a place I went to. Lynn was the neighbor who lived across the street from our Connecticut home. (Miriam has yet to discover the existence of Lynn, Massachusetts). The other common variant chant is:

Trot, trot to Boston
To buy a loaf of bread.
Trot, trot home again,
The old horse is dead.

I introduce this history to enforce the idea of how well known are these rhymes to Miriam.

Today at lunch, having finished earlier than Gretchen and me who sat talking and unattentive, Miriam picked up a large rag doll, put it on her lap, and chanted (quietly, to herself):

side a sorse to soston,
side a sorse to synn.
sareful sen sou set sere,
son’t sall sin.

Then:

ide a orse to oston,
ide a orse to ynn.
areful en ou et ere,
on’t all in.

And then:

fide a forse fo foston,
fide a forse fo fynn.
fareful fen fou fet fere,
fon’t fall fin.

It is clear that phonemic separation is an issue that engages Miriam now.

Relevance

Although she knows that letter represent sounds, it is not clear that Miriam understands the way in which phonetic knowledge will help her with reading. She may. Do note, however, that Miriam was introduced to phoneme separation two weeks ago (confer Logo session 5) through using my pig-latin system to drive the voice box. Five days ago, Miriam selected that activity as one she wanted to engage in (confer Logo session 10) even though I attempted to dissuade her from it by arguing that the programs I had available were limited and the output boring. Today I asked Miriam what I should plan for tomorrow: story writing, drawing, voice box. . . we didn’t always have to play SHOOT or READY, AIM, FIRE. “Voice box,” she exclaimd. “That’s what I want for tomorrow.”