Is phonology bypassed in normal or dyslexic development?

Bruce F. Pennington, Dianne L. Lefly, Guy C. Van Orden, Myra O. Bookman, Shelley D. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


A pervasive assumption in most accounts of normal reading and spelling development is that phonological coding is important early in development but is subsequently superseded by faster, orthographic coding which bypasses phonology. We call this assumption, which derives from dual process theory, the developmental bypass hypothesis. The present study tests four specific predictions of the developmental bypass hypothesis by comparing dyslexics and nondyslexics from the same families in a cross-sectional design. The four predictions are: 1) That phonological coding skill develops early in normal readers and soon reaches asymptote, whereas orthographic coding skill has a protracted course of development; 2) that the correlation of adult reading or spelling performance with phonological coding skill is considerably less than the correlation with orthographic coding skill; 3) that dyslexics who are mainly deficient in phonological coding skill should be able to bypass this deficit and eventually close the gap in reading and spelling performance; and 4) that the greatest differences between dyslexics and developmental controls on measures of phonological coding skill should be observed early rather than late in development. None of the four predictions of the developmental bypass hypothesis were upheld. Phonological coding skill continued to develop in nondyslexics until adulthood. It accounted for a substantial (32-53 percent) portion of the variance in reading and spelling performance in adult nondyslexics, whereas orthographic coding skill did not account for a statistically reliable portion of this variance. The dyslexics differed little across age in phonological coding skill, but made linear progress in orthographic coding skill, surpassing spelling-age (SA) controls by adulthood. Nonetheless, they did not close the gap in reading and spelling performance. Finally, dyslexics were significantly worse than SA (and Reading Age [RA]) controls in phonological coding skill only in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-89
Number of pages28
JournalAnnals of Dyslexia
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Speech and Hearing


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