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From "cracking the orthographic code" to "playing with language" toward a usage-based foundation of the reading process

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Wallot, S. (2014). From "cracking the orthographic code" to "playing with language" toward a usage-based foundation of the reading process. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00891.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-0092-C
The empirical study of reading dates back more than 125 years. But despite this long tradition, the scientific understanding of reading has made rather heterogeneous progress: many factors that influence the process of text reading have been uncovered, but theoretical explanations remain fragmented; no general theory pulls together the diverse findings. A handful of scholars have noted that properties thought to be at the core of the reading process do not actually generalize across different languages or from situations single-word reading to connected text reading. Such observations cast doubt on many of the traditional conceptions about reading. In this article, I suggest that the observed heterogeneity in the research is due to misguided conceptions about the reading process. Particularly problematic are the unrefined notions about meaning which undergird many reading theories: most psychological theories of reading implicitly assume a kind of elemental token semantics, where words serve as stable units of meaning in a text. This conception of meaning creates major conceptual problems. As an alternative, I argue that reading shoud be rather understood as a form of language use, which circumvents many of the conceptual problems and connects reading to a wider range of linguistic communication. Finally, drawing from Wittgenstein, the concept of "language games" is outlined as an approach to language use that can be operationalized scientifically to provide a new foundation for reading research.