Charles Read is Professor of Linguistics Emeritus, and Dean Emeritus of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
His research has focused on the linguistic foundations of reading and writing, especially relationships between sound systems and writing systems. Best known is his discovery of patterns in children’s beginning spelling, patterns which he explained in terms of children’s partial knowledge of standard spelling and letter names, intersecting with phonetic relationships among the sounds to be represented. Subsequent investigation has for the most part supported Read’s proposed explanations and has led to recommendations for how teachers and parents should view children’s initial spelling efforts.
Read also studied phonological awareness in readers of Chinese. He compared adults who had once learned to read alphabetic writing with equally literate people who read only the standard (non-alphabetic) Chinese characters. Finding that only the former group was able to decompose syllables into individual speech sounds, Read hypothesized that for these adults, it was only learning to read alphabetically which induced the conception of sounds within syllables (“phonemic awareness”).
Read has also studied adults of low literacy and has coauthored a text and articles about the acoustic analysis of speech.
The second phase of Read’s career was administrative. For ten years he served as Dean of the highly regarded School of Education at Wisconsin, leading a period of growth in teacher education, research-doctoral preparation, and private support.