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Towards Understanding the Brain Basis of Developmental Dyslexia: A Cross-Language Approach

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In this talk, I will provide a theoretical overview at the cognitive level of reading acquisition and developmental dyslexia across languages. Phonological awareness is a strong predictor of reading development, and develops at three linguistic levels. These are the levels of the syllable, the rhyme and the phoneme. I will develop the hypothesis that syllabic representation is basic to many languages, and that children’s ability to recognise syllables and rhymes precedes learning a particular spelling system. I will argue that this developmental view can readily explain cross-language differences in reading acquisition. I will then argue that it can also explain cross-language differences in the manifestation of developmental dyslexia. I will suggest that some of the processes underpinning language acquisition are disrupted in developmental dyslexia, and that this leads to deficits in the development of phonological representation before literacy is acquired. This causes characteristic and persistent problems in tasks reliant on the phonological system such as short-term memory and speeded naming, and also causes later literacy problems. According to this theoretical analysis, dyslexic children in all languages should have an underlying deficit that impairs their acquisition of syllabic structures. I will suggest that a plausible candidate is basic auditory processing of the rhythmic structure of speech and nonspeech sounds. I will present evidence that rhythmic processing is impaired in dyslexic children across languages, and suggest ways in which this might impair the adequate development of the phonological system.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

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