A miniature linguistic system was used to study acquisition of recombinative symbolic behavior. Three studies evaluated the teaching conditions of conditional discriminations with printed and spoken pseudowords that could potentially generate recombinative reading. Fifty-four college students across all studies learned to match 12 printed pseudowords to 12 spoken pseudowords. Some also matched pictures to the same spoken words. Each two-syllable pseudoword was formed by symbols from an arbitrarily created alphabet composed of four vowels and four consonants. Letters had univocal correspondence with phonemes. Recombinative receptive reading, comprehensive reading, and textual responding to pseudowords were periodically assessed. Experiment 1 (n = 20) showed that recombinative reading increased as the number of trained words composed of the same symbols increased. Experiment 2 (n = 14) showed that overtraining the same two words did not produce recombinative reading for most participants. Experiment 3 (n = 20), in which training with pictures was omitted, showed that elemental control by within-syllable units can develop even when the trained pseudowords are meaningless (not related to pictures). The present results support the utility of the miniature linguistic system methodology for identifying and controlling environmental determinants of rudimentary reading skills.
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