Simplifying Reading: Applying the Simplicity Principle to Reading


should be sent to Janet I. Vousden, Department of Psychology, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry CV1 5FB, UK. E-mail:


Debates concerning the types of representations that aid reading acquisition have often been influenced by the relationship between measures of early phonological awareness (the ability to process speech sounds) and later reading ability. Here, a complementary approach is explored, analyzing how the functional utility of different representational units, such as whole words, bodies (letters representing the vowel and final consonants of a syllable), and graphemes (letters representing a phoneme) may change as the number of words that can be read gradually increases. Utility is measured by applying a Simplicity Principle to the problem of mapping from print to sound; that is, assuming that the “best” representational units for reading are those which allow the mapping from print to sounds to be encoded as efficiently as possible. Results indicate that when only a small number of words are read whole-word representations are most useful, whereas when many words can be read graphemic representations have the highest utility.