Funny words (ages 8-10) / Non-words (age 11)

This is a test of non-word reading. Nonwords (sometimes called ‘pseudowords’) are letter strings that are not recognised words in a given language (in this case English), but could be, i.e. they conform to orthographic rules of the language. For example, ‘gade’ or ‘tiphalune’ are not English words but are nevertheless pronounceable as though they were words, using phonological decoding skills (and, possibly, analogy processes, e.g. ‘gade’ might be rhymed with ‘fade’ or ‘glade’). If a student pronounced ‘gade’ as ‘gad´ee’ (instead of applying the silent ‘e’ rule which changed the short ‘a’ to a long ‘a’), or ‘tiphalune’ as ‘tip´hall´unee’ (instead of ‘tif´aloon’ or ‘ti´farloon’), we would have good evidence that the student does not possess the appropriate phonological decoding rules (often referred to by teachers simply as ‘phonics’). In some cases, there may be other phonological problems, such as difficulties in sequencing phonemes or syllables (e.g. the student may pronounce ‘tiphalune’ as ‘till´a´foon’), additional to, or instead of, failure to apply rules of phonics.

Students with dyslexia typically experience difficulties in reading nonwords (Snowling and Hulme, 1994; Griffiths and Snowling, 2002; Verhoeven and Keuning, 2018). Indeed, there is evidence from a wide range of different tasks (not just nonwords) that individuals with dyslexia of all ages generally find phonological activities difficult (Bruck, 1992; Snowling et al., 1997; Snowling, 2000; Suarez-Coalla and Cuetos, 2015; Cavalli et al., 2018) and there is a school of scientific thought that regards dyslexia as essentially a phonological processing difficulty (Rack, 1994; Snowling, 1995, 2000; Griffiths and Snowling, 2002; Ramus, 2003; Lindgren and Laine, 2011; Saksida et al., 2016). Hence a low score on LASS 8–11 Funny words / Non-words is usually a good indication of dyslexia. However, teachers should be aware that there are other possible explanations for a low score on Funny words / Non-words, including:

  • the student has never been taught phonics properly
  • the student has insufficient experience of English
  • the student has hearing problems

In order to resolve these possibilities, the teacher will need to consider other relevant evidence (such as medical history or information about the student’s schooling) but must also take into account the student’s performance on the other LASS 8–11 subtests. For example, if the student also performs poorly on Word chopping / Segments, then this would support conclusions of a phonological processing difficulty. However, although it is true that most students with dyslexia have phonological processing difficulties, there are some cases of dyslexia that do not display such difficulties (Beaton, McDougall and Singleton, 1997b; Rack, 1997; Turner, 1997; Joanisse et al., 2000). Hence teachers should beware of assuming that, because a student does not have a low score on Funny words / Non-words, they cannot therefore have dyslexia.

Lack of experience with English can limit awareness of pronunciation rules. For example, in one of the more difficult items in Funny words / Non-words: ‘troughilicancy’ (pronounced ‘troff´ill´ick´an´see’), in order to select the correct answer a student needs to know that ‘–ough’ is pronounced ‘–off’ and that ‘c’ followed by a vowel is usually pronounced ‘k’ but when followed by a ‘y’ is pronounced ‘s’).