The Roots of Phonics: A Historical Introduction / Edition 1

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To teach phonics effectively to children learning to read, education professionals need a deep understanding of the nuances and complexities of the English language. That's why this highly influential classic is more important than ever. A book that shaped the work of the most respected and prominent literacy experts, The Roots of Phonics is finally back in print to enlighten a new generation of professionals-many of whom have not had phonics instruction themselves. Through this clear and concise history of how modern English phonics developed, readers will trace the evolution of familiar language concepts: the alphabet, syllables, vowels and consonants, spelling, pronunciation, punctuation marks, and more. As readers uncover the "big picture" of phonics and the forces that shaped it, they'll learn fascinating facts such as why our alphabet has 26 letters what sparked the phonics vs. whole language debate how Spanish, French, Dutch, Native American, and other languages influenced the development of American English what phonemes, graphemes, and morphemes are, and how they relate to each other how the invention of movable type affected writing and spelling why British spellings faded from American English how different pronunciations take hold in different regions of the country More than a history lesson, this landmark book strengthens readers' understanding of the English language and illuminates the longtime importance of phonics in education-critical insights they'll use as they help children learn to read. A must for the library of every education professional, SLP, and researcher who works to promote children's literacy.

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Editorial Reviews

author of Speech to Print - Louisa Moats
"I always keep this book within easy reach because I can rely on its accuracy, thoroughness, and detailed documentation of historical sources. Balmuth's scholarship is impeccable."
Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and Leadership,Southern Methodist University - G. Reid Lyon
"A splendid read and a meticulously researched book. . . offers rich and unique insights on the role phonics plays in different writing systems and its impact on how reading development and instruction are conceptualized. Should be required reading for all engaged in fostering literacy."
Professor Emeritus, San Jose State University - Marcia Henry
"The original Roots of Phonics was a major resource for my own dissertation. Thankfully, the book is back in print for linguists, teachers and all persons interested in the history of written language and its importance to reading instruction."
The Midwest Book Review
"Simply a must read to anyone who has wondered why they&#39re saying the words they&#39re saying."
The Newsletter of Reading Reform Foundation of New York
"Incredibly well researched, detailed, clear and conciseā€¦This immense scholarship gives the average reader or the classroom teacher a sense of the sweep of history and depth and breadth of the continuous evolution of a rich language."
From the Publisher

"Simply a must read to anyone who has wondered why they&#39re saying the words they&#39re saying."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781598570366
  • Publisher: Brookes, Paul H. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 3/1/2009
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Marilyn Jager Adams, Ph.D., is a cognitive and developmental psychologist who has devoted her career to research and applied work in the area of cognition and education. Dr. Adams's scholarly contributions include the book Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print (MIT Press, 1994). Among honors, she has received the American Educational Research Association's Sylvia Scribner Award and The International Dyslexia Association's Samuel Torrey Orton Award.

Dr. Adams chaired the planning committee for the National Academy of Sciences (1998) report Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children and has served since 1992 on the planning or steering committees for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading. She also developed a vocabulary assessment for the 2014 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) and was on the development team for the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy.

Dr. Adams has authored a number of empirically validated classroom resources, including Odyssey: A Curriculum for Thinking (Charlesbridge Publishing, 1986), which was originally developed for barrio students in Venezuela; Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: A Classroom Curriculum (Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., 1998) on language and literacy basics for emergent readers and students with special needs; Open Court's 1995 edition of Collection for Young Scholars, a program for reading, writing, and literacy development for elementary school students; and Scholastic's System 44 (2009) and iRead (2013), technology-based programs for building literacy foundations. She has also served on the advisory board for several of the Public Broadcasting System's educational programs including Sesame Street and Between the Lions, for which she was Senior Literacy Advisor.

Dr. Adams spent most of her career with the think tank Bolt Beranek & Newman (BBN Technologies-"Where Wizards Stay up Late") in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From 2000 to 2007, she was Chief Scientist at Soliloquy Learning, which she cofounded with the goal of harnessing automatic speech recognition for helping students learn to read and read to learn. She is currently a visiting scholar in the Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences Department at Brown University. She has two children: John, who is working toward a Ph.D. in social psychology, and Jocie, who is striving to be a musician. Her husband, Milton, is a rocket scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Charles Stark Draper Labs.

Miriam Balmuth is Professor Emeritus of hunter College of the City University of New York. Dr. Balmuth received a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from New York University and an M.S. in Elementary Education with a specialization in developmental and remedial reading at The City College of New York. Formerly Professor of Education, she helped develop and then headed the M.S. program in Reaching Teacher Education at Hunter College. She has been a classroom teacher and a reading clinician.

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Table of Contents

About the Author

Marilyn Jager Adams

Foreword to the Previous Edition
Jeanne S. Chall



  1. Characteristics of Writing Systems
  2. Pictograms and Logograms
  3. Syllables
  4. Alphabets
  5. History of the English Alphabet
  6. Alternative Forms of Written English
  7. English Punctuation Marks
  8. The Ancestry of Spoken English: Indo-European
  9. Origins
  10. The Germanic Heritage
  11. Backgrounds of Old English
  12. Old English Pronunciation
  13. Backgrounds of Middle English: The Norman Conquest
  14. From Old to Middle English
  15. Middle English Pronunciation
  16. The Transition from Middle to Modern English
  17. Backgrounds of English Spelling
  18. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century
  19. Authoritarianism: Backgrounds of the English Dictionary
  20. The English Dictionary from the Eighteenth Century on
  21. Transplanting the English Language to America
  22. Noah Webster
  23. Early American Spelling
  24. Alphabet Reform
  25. Simplified Spelling
  26. Rejection of the Alphabetic Code I: Horace Mann
  27. Rejection of the Alphabetic Code II: Through the Nineteenth Century to Today
  28. Emphasizing Regular Patterns First
  29. Nonphonemic Spelling Patterns as an Advantage of Written English





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