Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Deaf--Education--English language; Deaf--Education--Reading;


Hearing-impaired children rarely learn to read well. They suffer no apparent deficit in perceptual skill or basic intelligence. Their difficulty appears to be linguistic in origin. But research on the reading ability of the deaf is inadequate to specify the precise nature of their linguistic disability.

The deaf lack knowledge of English phonology. Current reading instruction programs for them a.re based on the assumption that this is the cause of their reading problems. Recent research indicates, however, that phoneme-grapheme correspondences contribute little to the reading process and that phonics instruction may actually impede learning to read. It is unlikely that phonology is the source of the problem.

Morphological studies suggest that the deaf lack word knowledge, semantic studies that they lack conceptual meanings for words, and syntactic studies that they a.re unable to interpret structural clues. Any one of these factors, or some combination of them, may be necessary to account for the observed reading problems.

Russell, Quigley, and Power (1976) suggested that syntax was the principal cause of reading disability in the deaf. The results of a recent test of that hypothesis (Scholes, Cohen, & Brumfield, 1978) confirmed the claim. But the latter authors did not control for subjects' word recognition (morphological competence) or knowledge of word meanings (semantic competence). Morphology, semantics, and syntax interact in reading. To estimate the contribution of any one of then to reading comprehension, it is necessary to control for the other two.

This study was designed to test the hypothesis that the sentence comprehension difficulties of deaf children were due to syntactic deficit. Word recognition and knowledge of word meaning were controlled.

Thirty-six students of the Iowa School for the Deaf were given a sentence comprehension test containing active, passive, relative clause, conjunction, pronoun substitution, and indirect object constructions. Half the students, randomly selected, were trained to recognize and comprehend the words used in the test sentences. The other half received no training. Means of the two groups on the sentence comprehension test were equal, x=11.94, supporting the hypothesis. Difficulty indices demonstrated that passives were most difficult, followed by relatives, conjunctions and pronoun substitutions, indirect objects, and actives. Results are consistent with previous research.

Syntactic knowledge as demonstrated on the comprehension test was significantly correlated with vocabulary knowledge (Word Knowledge Subtest of the Metropolitan Achievement Test), IQ (Leiter International Performance Scale), and reading achievement (Metropolitan Achievement Test).

Vocabulary knowledge was the best predictor of reading achievement (R2 =. 70), while syntactic knowledge and IQ together added another 2%. Vocabulary knowledge was the best predictor of syntactic knowledge (R2 = .41). IQ added another 7% and reading achievement an additional .4%. Over half the sentence comprehension test variance was unaccounted for. Presumably this half is due to syntactic deficit.

Results confirm that the current emphasis on phonological skills in reading instruction for the deaf is misplaced. Emphasis should be placed on interpreting structural clues.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Specialist in Education


Department of Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Catherine W. Hatcher


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