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J Exp Child Psychol. 1989 Oct;48(2):224-45.

Rhyme, rime, and the onset of reading.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, England.


There is recent evidence that children naturally divide syllables into the opening consonant or consonant cluster (the onset) and the rest of the syllable (the rime). This suggests an explanation for the fact that preschool children are sensitive to rhyme, but often find tasks in which they have to isolate single phonemes extremely difficult. Words which rhyme share a common rime and thus can be categorized on that speech unit. Single phonemes on the other hand may only be part of one of these speech units. This analysis leads to some clear predictions. Young children, even children not yet able to read, should manage to categorize words on the basis of a single phoneme when the phoneme coincides with the word's onset ("cat," "cup") but not when it is only part of the rime ("cat," "pit"). They should find it easier to work out that two monosyllabic words have a common vowel which is not shared by another word when all three words end with the same consonant ("lip," "hop," "tip") but the odd word has a different rime than when the three words all start with the same consonant ("cap," "can," "cot") and thus all share the same onset. The hypothesis also suggests that children should be aware of single phonemes when these coincide with the onset before they learn to read. We tested these predictions in two studies of children aged 5, 6, and 7 years. The results clearly support these predictions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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