Anglocentrism in
Current Reading
and Practice
David L. Share
Anglocentrism in Current Reading
Research and Practice: Implications
for the Diagnosis and Assessment of
Dyslexia in European alphabets
David L. Share
Department of Learning Disabilities
Faculty of Education
University of Haifa
EDA, Växjö, Sweden,
September, 2013
Overall plan
• General introductory comments
• Anglocentrism briefly reviewed
• Some more Anglocentrisms
• Eurocentrism and alphabetism
• Suggestions for de-tox
New generation of cognitive research:
Emphasizing variability rather than
Enormous diversity across and within
The weirdest people in the world?
(Henrich, Heine, Norenzayana, BBS, 2010)
“Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human
psychology and behavior in the world's top journals based on
samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized,
Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often
implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human
populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative
of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions
justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across
the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial
variability in experimental results across populations and that
WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of
the species – frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visua
perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization
and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, selfconcepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The
findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young
children, are among the least representative populations one could
.find for generalizing about humans.”
The myth of language universals:
Language diversity and its
importance for cognitive science
“Languages are much more diverse in structure than
cognitive scientists generally appreciate. A
widespread assumption among cognitive scientists,
growing out of the generative tradition in linguistics,
is that all languages are English-like but with different
sounds systems and vocabularies. The true picture is
very different: languages differ so fundamentally from
one another at every level of description (sound,
grammar, lexicon, meaning) that it is very hard to
find any single structural property they share.”
(Evans & Levinson, BBS, 2009 p. 429)
In literacy, there’s an additional
(acute) problem
• Most theory and practice in current
literacy research has grown out of studies
conducted in English.
• English orthography is not like other
alphabetic orthographies owing to its
extreme spelling-sound irregularity
Extreme ambiguity/irregularity of
English spelling-sound
Because English orthography is so
idiosyncratic, much of reading research
confined to narrow Anglocentric research
agenda addressing theoretical and applied
issues with only limited relevance for a
universal science of reading and literacy.
(Share, 2008, Psychological Bulletin)
English spelling-sound irregularity
1. Focused disproportionate attention on
oral reading accuracy at the expense of
silent reading, meaning access and
2. Distorted thinking about…
• Role of phonological awareness
• Timing and content of reading
• The “stages” of reading development
• Definition and remediation of reading
• Role of lexical-semantic and supra-lexical
(i.e. contextual information) in word
And (3) has blinkered theorizing
• Dominant theoretical paradigm – dual-
route theory, largely response to English
spelling-sound inconsistency. But illequipped to serve the interests of a
universal science of reading because it
overlooks a more fundamental dualism
applicable to all readers in all
1. English: A “freak” orthography
(statistical outlier)
Learning to decode English is
extraordinarily difficult
2. Dual-route theory of word
reading and the challenges of
• Dual-route theory still benchmark status
• Central dual-route axiom (Coltheart)
No single procedure can handle
(correctly pronounce) nonwords (slint)
and exception words (pint).
When irregularity is the exception
to the rule
• Is a second (lexical) route needed when
no exception words? Relevant only to
Fundamental and overarching
dualism overlooked – applies to all
words in all orthographies
1. All words novel at some point – algorithm
needed for independently identifying
words first encountered (see Share, 1995)
2. Reader must be able to achieve high
degree of automatization in word
recognition (direct retrieval)
Universalistic “novice-to-expert” or
“unfamiliar-to-familiar” dualism
1. Merges study of reading with human skill
learning in general: Transition from slow,
deliberating, step-by-step unskilled
performance to rapid one-step skilled
2. Converges with dualistic nature of
efficient orthography – compromise
between needs of
novice (decipherability) and
expert (automatizability)
Efficient orthography must provide
A means for deciphering new words
but also…
This algorithmic process must lay
foundations for rapid direct-retrieval
mechanism (self-teaching, Share, 1995,
Efficient orthography must also…
Provide visually distinct word-specific (or
morpheme-specific) visual-orthographic
configurations required for the
unitization and automatization of skilled
word recognition (knight/night,
3. Over-emphasis on accuracy
• Given extreme spelling-sound ambiguity,
deriving accurate pronunciation most pressing
concern; if new word not accurately identified
entire word-learning process derailed.
• In regular orthographies accuracy asymptotes
early and speed/fluency becomes critical issue in
individual and developmental differences. But
topic of fluency only now receiving attention
Traditional Anglo-American
definitions of dyslexia
Word identification and/or Word Attack
(decoding pseudowords)
British Psychological Association
definition of dyslexia
(borrowing Dutch fluency-based definition)
• Dyslexia is evident when accurate and
fluent word reading and/or spelling
develops very incompletely or with great
difficulty. BPS (1999) (Rose, 2009)
• IDA definition (Lyon et al. 2003)
4. Over-emphasis on oral reading
• Reading aloud does not necessarily involve
access to meaning
• Slower, more exhaustive phonological
representations (Elbro)
• less orthographic processing and
• brain pathways different
• dissociations
• Eye movements are different
4. Over-emphasis on oral reading
Silent reading today’s literacy benchmark
Non-trivial differences between oral and
silent reading
Over-reliance on oral reading may not
provide a complete picture of word
recognition strengths and weaknesses
5. Instructional Anglocentrisms:
Timing and content of reading
• English orthography changes
when we teach
how we teach
6. Definition and remediation of
reading disability/dyslexia (and
• The 3-year learning-to-read period in
English and the “Wait-to-fail” (IQdiscrepancy) model
IQ-discrepancy (wait-to-fail)
• Requires severe discrepancy not usually
evident until around 3 years after school
• Bias against early identification
Dyslexia subtyping
and the dual-route model
Basis: reading accuracy for words varying in
• Phonological dyslexia
– poor nonword reading (non-lexical route),
good at exception word reading (lexical route)
• Surface dyslexia
– Poor exception word reading (lexical), but
good at nonword reading (non-lexical)
Accuracy/rate subtyping
Leinonen, Muller, Leppanen, Aro, Ahonen, •
& Lyytinen (2001) hasty/hesitant
slow but accurate
fast but inaccurate
Accuracy/Rate double
dissociation in Hebrew
(Shany & Share, 2012)
• Rate-disabled
normal accuracy, slow RAN
• Accuracy-disabled
normal rate, poor phonological
awareness and morphological
Shany & Share, Annals of Dyslexia, 2012
Anglocentric reviewing
“I find it difficult to label children who read
and decode as accurately but not as fast
as normally developing readers as dyslexic
or “disabled” readers.”
(Anonymous (Anglocentric) reviewer, 2010)
Even More Anglocentrisms?
1. Onsets & Rimes
2. Diacritics
General conclusions
Commonalities and universals
Because all words initially unfamiliar,
decipherability critical, hence sublexical
units must be represented and
phonological awareness required
(phonological “universal”).
Expert reading similar across scripts:
automaticity and fluency.
New shift from Anglocentrism to
• most writing systems are not alphabetic,
and even most alphabets are not Romanbased.
Eurocentrism and Alphabetism
Many Western scholars – (Gelb, Havelock),
assume that alphabets are
“The basic difference between Western
alphabetic and East Asian syllabic writing
acts on several levels to promote or inhibit
creativity, particularly that associated with
breakthroughs in science…syllabic literacy
entails a diminished propensity for
abstract and analytical thought…Certain
Asian characteristics credited with blocking
creativity, such as conservative political
and social institutions and group-oriented
behavior, derive in part from effects that
the orthography has had on the minds of
individuals, (Hannas, 2003)
Many theories of literacy development
(reading and spelling) also alphabetist
Taking the final step toward the
creation of a true alphabetic writing
system, the Greeks assigned a symbol to
each consonant and vowel of their
language…In many ways, the individual
development of the children who are
discovering the alphabetic principle in
English writing recapitulates human
history, Moats, 2000, p. 82-83
Globalization of the alphabet
European alphabets disseminated by
Christian missionaries (over 1000
Common motto ”Consonants as in English,
vowels as in Italian”
Ideal orthography one letter one sound
(phoneme) vowels and consonants
Are alphabets (alpha)best?
(4 illustrations)
1. Asfaha, Kurbers & Kroon (2009)’s study
in Eritrea
Tigrinya and Tigre languages with a CV
alphasyllabic script (Ge'ez)
Kunama and Saho have alphabetic
Roman-based scripts.
Asfaha et al: Results
• Grade 1 children learned to read the
syllabic Ge'ez much more easily than the
alphabetic scripts
• Syllabic teaching of alphabetic Saho
produced better results than alphabetic
teaching of (alphabetic) Kunama.
2. Hanuno’o alphasyllabary
in the Phillipines
• Indigenous Indic scripts marginalized
under Western colonial (Spanish) influence
in all but the least accessible places
• Reports of high literacy levels among the
3. Dinka in Southern Sudan
• Dinka orthography is a European Romanbased orthography but reported to be
extraordinarily difficult to read (John
(Lack of tone marking to blame?)
4. Another case of Alphabetism?
Hebrew and Arabic writing are not
alphabets, but abjads
• Alphabet: Represents consonantal and vowel
• Hebrew and Arabic are abjads representing
consonantal phonemes. Vowels represented only
in a subsidiary manner, incompletely and
inconsistently. Full vowel representation only for
beginners or special circumstances.
From Ptolemy to Copernicus
Back to Henrich et al and WEIRD psychology
Abandon our “universalizing” bias
1. Modesty
Claim X in English
2. Education Minimal knowledge of other
languages and writing systems
3. Home-grown Promote indigenous

Keynote: David Share - European Dyslexia Association