[PS-1.6] Mechanisms behind emergent phonological skills: Effects of fluid intelligence and interrelationships between phonological subskills over time

Wolff, U. & Gustafsson, J.

Department of education and special education, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

The study is based on theoretical notions and empirical results from two main areas of research: 1) research showing that phonological awareness (PA) provides a necessary foundation for early reading skills; and 2) research on the structure of cognitive abilities. We investigate the mechanisms through which cognitive abilities influence development of PA. PA comprises a set of subskills, which develop over time. Little is known about the structure of these subskills, but in this study we propose a model based on two dimensions of phonology. One is the linguistic complexity level (LCL): morphemes, syllables/rhyme, and phonemes. The other is the phonological complexity level (PCL): identification (ID), blending/segmentation (B/S), and manipulation (MAN). The phonological tasks were constructed through a complete crossing of these two dimensions. The tasks were administered to a sample of 222 children in a longitudinal design with three waves of testing at the age of four and five. At the first wave a broad range of cognitive tests measuring different aspects of fluid intelligence (Gf) was included. Based on Cattell?s Investment theory, we developed a set of specific hypotheses about the mechanisms through which Gf influences PA, and how phonological subskills influence one another over time. The phonological tasks were modeled with a multimethod-multitrait approach, yielding the three PCL factors ID, B/S and MAN with a phoneme factor. An autoregressive model was fitted to the three waves of data. Gf had a very high relationship to ID1, and the autoregressive effects from ID1to ID2 to ID3 were very strong. There also were substantial effects from ID1 to B/S2 and MAN2, and from ID2 to B/S3 and MAN3. This implies that there was successive propagation of influence from Gf and ID on the other subskills. We thus conclude that this characterizes the development of early phonological skills.