Reading without phonology: ERP evidence from skilled deaf readers of Spanish

Sci Rep. 2021 Mar 4;11(1):5202. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-84490-5.

Abstract

Reading typically involves phonological mediation, especially for transparent orthographies with a regular letter to sound correspondence. In this study we ask whether phonological coding is a necessary part of the reading process by examining prelingually deaf individuals who are skilled readers of Spanish. We conducted two EEG experiments exploiting the pseudohomophone effect, in which nonwords that sound like words elicit phonological encoding during reading. The first, a semantic categorization task with masked priming, resulted in modulation of the N250 by pseudohomophone primes in hearing but not in deaf readers. The second, a lexical decision task, confirmed the pattern: hearing readers had increased errors and an attenuated N400 response for pseudohomophones compared to control pseudowords, whereas deaf readers did not treat pseudohomophones any differently from pseudowords, either behaviourally or in the ERP response. These results offer converging evidence that skilled deaf readers do not rely on phonological coding during visual word recognition. Furthermore, the finding demonstrates that reading can take place in the absence of phonological activation, and we speculate about the alternative mechanisms that allow these deaf individuals to read competently.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Deafness / physiopathology
  • Deafness / prevention & control*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Female
  • Hearing / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Persons With Hearing Impairments
  • Phonetics*
  • Reading*
  • Semantics
  • Spain / epidemiology
  • Young Adult