What is it about?

Children and adults with dyslexia struggle to read, and their reading deficit is typically thought to arise from difficulties with understanding and using sounds, as well as matching sounds to letters (but no problems with hearing sounds). Most dyslexia research looks at the link between sounds and letters, but our study looked at a different aspect of spoken language called "prosody". Prosody refers to the stress patterns that change across syllables, for example, the difference between the noun and verb forms of the word "record" (compare REC.ord and re.CORD). In our study, college students with and without dyslexia were asked to circle stressed syllables in poems and nursery rhymes. We were surprised to find that all of our participants struggled with the task, even those with no history of dyslexia, although stronger readings skills were correlated with better recognition of stressed syllables (see infographic).

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Why is it important?

Other studies suggest that patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables, or prosody, is difficult for people with dyslexia to hear. Our study suggests that conscious recognition of prosody is difficult for many people, not just for people with dyslexia, but also adults with typical language and literacy development. Given that prosody is central to spoken language, our findings suggest that many people would benefit from educational interventions that focus on prosody.


This study presents an experiment looking at conscious identification of stressed syllables by young adults in college. One unexpected finding was that our participants did well identifying unstressed syllables, but my experience as an instructor suggests that this is an artifact of the task. In general, I expect that most people struggle to understand what it means for a syllable to be "unstressed".

Dr. Peter Richtsmeier
Oklahoma State University System

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Poetry and Syllable-Stress Identification as the Means for Understanding Dyslexia and Reading-Related Difficulties, Reading & Writing Quarterly, November 2023, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/10573569.2023.2253451.
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