The Role of Akshara Knowledge and Phonological Processing Skills in Reading Development among Sri Lankan Children

  • Author / Creator
    Marasinghe Arachchillage, Deepani KW
  • This dissertation consists of three separate papers. The first paper examined predictors of akshara recognition at the symbol-level (akshara type, akshara frequency, visual complexity, number of diacritic markers, grapheme-phoneme sequence matching, and orthographic linearity) and child-level (phonological awareness, phonological memory, RAN, home reading time and socioeconomic status) in a sample of Sinhala-speaking Grade 1 to 6 children (N=300) in Sri Lanka. Generalized linear regression analyses showed that akshara type, akshara frequency, visual complexity, grapheme-phoneme sequence matching and the number of orthographic linearity breaks in akshara accounted for unique variance in how frequently an akshara was recognized correctly. Syllable awareness, phoneme awareness, phonological memory, and home reading time were unique child-level predictors of akshara recognition. The results suggest that the akshara learning process in alphasyllabaries is both prolonged and qualitatively different from letter learning in alphabetic languages due to the large symbol set and symbol-specific characteristics that exact a processing cost. These finding have implications for models of literacy acquisition. The second paper examined the effects of introducing complex akshara and phoneme-level reading instruction on the development of phoneme awareness and its association with akshara knowledge and word reading accuracy in a sample of Sinhala-speaking children from Grades 3 to 5 (N = 150) in Sri Lanka. Phoneme awareness was slow to emerge and showed a strong relationship with word reading accuracy and akshara knowledge only after children received explicit phoneme-level instruction on akshara formation. Increased exposure to complex akshara itself had a small but significant effect on the development of phoneme awareness. Both word reading accuracy and akshara knowledge predicted phoneme awareness once children received phoneme-level instruction, but the opposite was not true. The results suggest that phoneme awareness in Sinhala is particularly sensitive to the method of reading instruction. This raises the question whether Sinhala students would benefit from direct phoneme instruction provided to them in earlier grades. The third paper examined the cognitive correlates (akshara knowledge, phonological awareness, phonological memory, and RAN) of word reading skills in a sample of Sinhala-speaking Grade 1 to 6 children (N = 300) in Sri Lanka. Multiple regression analyses showed that akshara knowledge had the strongest unique association with both reading accuracy and fluency across grades. RAN was also uniquely associated with word reading skills in all grades except Grade 4. Phonological memory was uniquely associated with reading accuracy until intermediate stage of reading development and with reading fluency only for the beginning readers. In contrast, neither syllable awareness nor phoneme awareness were uniquely associated with reading skills across grades. These results suggest that learning to read words accurately and fluently in alphasyllabaries is a prolonged process, and akshara knowledge is the most important predictor of success in it. These findings have implications for the literacy acquisition, development, and instruction in alphasyllabaries.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • Special Education
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Georgiou, George (Department of Educational Psychology)
    • McQuarrie, Lynn (Department of Educational Psychology)
    • Nag, Sonali (Department of Educational)
    • Carbonaro, Mike ((Department of Educational Psychology)
    • Share, David (Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities)