Common misconceptions about the phonological deficit theory of dyslexia

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In this discussion paper, I review a number of common misconceptions about the phonological deficit theory (PDH) of dyslexia. These include the common but mistaken idea that the PDH is simply about phonemic awareness (PA), and, consequently, is a circular “pseudo”-explanation or epiphenomenon of reading difficulties. I argue that PA is only the “tip of the phonological iceberg” and that “deeper” spoken-language phonological impairments among dyslexics appear well before the onset of reading and even at birth. Furthermore, not even reading-specific expressions of phonological deficits—PA or pseudoword naming, can be considered circular if we clearly distinguish between reading proper—real meaning-bearing words, or real text, and the mechanisms (subskills) of reading development (such as phonological recoding). I also explain why an understanding of what constitutes an efficient writing system explains why phonology is necessarily a major source of variability in reading ability and hence a core deficit (or at least one core deficit) among struggling readers whether dyslexic or non-dyslexic. I also address the misguided notion that the PDH has now fallen out of favor because most dyslexia researchers have (largely) ceased studying phonological processing. I emphasize that acceptance of the PDH does not imply repudiation of other non-phonological hypotheses because the PDH does not claim to account for all the variance in reading ability/disability. Finally, I ask where neurobiology enters the picture and suggest that researchers need to exercise more caution in drawing their conclusions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1510
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - 14 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Dyslexia
  • Neurobiology
  • Phonological
  • Reading

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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