Phonological recoding and self-teaching: sine qua non of reading acquisition

Cognition. 1995 May;55(2):151-218; discussion 219-26. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(94)00645-2.


The self-teaching hypothesis proposes that phonological recoding functions as a self-teaching mechanism enabling the learner to independently acquire an autonomous orthographic lexicon. Successful decoding encounters with novel letter strings provide opportunities to learn word-specific print-to-meaning connections. Although it may not play a central role in skilled word recognition, phonological recoding, by virtue of its self-teaching function, is regarded as critical to successful reading acquisition. This paper elaborates the self-teaching hypothesis proposed by Jorm and Share (1983), and reviews relevant evidence. Key features of phonological recoding include an item-based rather than stage-based role in development, the progressive "lexicalization" of the process of recoding, and the importance of phonological awareness and contextual information in resolving decoding ambiguity. Although phonological skills have been shown to be primary in reading acquisition, orthographic processing appears to be an important but secondary source of individual differences. This implies an asymmetrical pattern of dissociations in both developmental and acquired reading disorders. Strong relationships between word recognition, basic phonological processing abilities and phonemic awareness are also consistent with the self-teaching notion. Finally, it is noted that current models of word recognition (both PDP and dual-route) fail to address the quintessential problem of reading acquisition-independent generation of target pronunciations for novel orthographic strings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mental Recall*
  • Phonetics*
  • Reading*
  • Verbal Learning*
  • Vocabulary