A Historical Introduction, Revised Edition
The Roots of Phonics
Special Education
A classic in the literacy literature is back in print with new exercises so that teachers can understand phonics before teaching them to students.
70366 978-1-59857-036-6
2009 256
Available Stock
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.

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






Be the first to submit a review on this product!
Review and Rate this Item


: The Newsletter of Reading Reform Foundation of New York - February 1, 2010
"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."
: The Midwest Book Review - July 1, 2009
"Simply a must read to anyone who has wondered why they're saying the words they're saying."
Louisa Moats, author of Speech to Print - December 1, 2008
"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."
G. Reid Lyon, Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and Leadership,Southern Methodist University - December 1, 2008
"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."
Marcia Henry, Professor Emeritus, San Jose State University - December 1, 2008
"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."