February 18
William Labov
"Learning to read: Linguistic light on dark corners of the mind."
  Though the field of reading research has made great advances in studying the general relation between phonemic awareness and decoding skills, it has not yet absorbed the complex relationship between phonetics and phonemics that linguistic analysis provides. The Urban Minorities Reading Project at Penn has been applying the linguistic analysis of reading errors to the problem of raising reading levels of struggling readers in Philadelphia, and is now expanding these methods to African American, Latino and white children in other parts of the U.S.

The Individualized Reading Program that is built upon this analysis has shown a significant advantage in raising standardized scores over current methods used in Philadelphia schools. However, the problem of decoding of final consonant clusters has been surprisingly resistant to intervention. This problem has been linked to the fact that African American Vernacular English shows a much higher rate of simplification of these clusters than other dialects. It is even more surprising to find that the problem is more severe for those types of clusters that are not simplified in speech than for those that are. The explanation for this result will be examined in the light of the more general problem of relating printed text to the mental lexicon for children who do not yet know how to read.