Is the Science of Reading Just the Science of Reading English?

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The science of reading has made genuine progress in understanding reading and the teaching of reading, but is the science of reading just the science of reading English? Worldwide, a majority of students learn to read and write in non-European, nonalphabetic orthographies such as abjads (e.g., Arabic), abugidas/alphasyllabaries (e.g., Hindi), or morphosyllabaries (e.g., Chinese). Over a decade ago, I argued that the extreme inconsistency of English spelling–sound correspondence had confined the science of reading to an insular, Anglocentric research agenda addressing theoretical and applied issues with limited relevance for a universal science of reading. Here, I ask if the science of reading has moved forward. Acknowledging some limited progress over the past decade, it is evident that even today, mainstream reading research remains entrenched in Anglocentrism, Eurocentrism, and another form of ethnocentrism that I call alphabetism. Even the two dominant theoretical frameworks for describing cross-script diversity, orthographic depth and psycholinguistic grain size theory, give little or no consideration to non-European alphabets or nonalphabetic scripts, promoting a one-dimensional view of script variation (i.e., spelling–sound consistency). Consideration of the full spectrum of the world’s languages and writing systems reveals multiple dimensions of writing system complexity, each liable to create obstacles for the developing reader. If the science of reading is to contribute meaningfully to assessment, diagnosis, instruction, and intervention for all readers around the world, then we must extricate our field from entrenched ethnocentrism and embrace global diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S391-S402
JournalReading Research Quarterly
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant (1002/20) from the Israel Science Foundation and by the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 International Literacy Association


  • 1-Early childhood
  • 2-Childhood
  • Assessment
  • Cognitive
  • Critical Analysis
  • Cross-Cultural Analysis
  • Decoding
  • Developmental Theories
  • Document Analysis
  • Dyslexia
  • Early Literacy
  • Fluency
  • Language learners
  • Linguistic
  • Oral language
  • Orthography
  • Phonics; phonemic awareness; phonological awareness
  • Phonological Awareness
  • Psycholinguistic
  • Research Synthesis
  • Struggling learners
  • Theoretical perspectives
  • Word Recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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