Unlocking Language

The Classic Readability Studies

William H. DuBay, Editor
246 pages
BookSurge ISBN: 1-4196-6176-0
Downloadable free pdf file

Unlocking Language features reprints of 10 landmark studies in readability. They start with Edward L. Thorndike's introduction to his Teacher's Word Book in 1921 and end with Rudolf Flesch's introduction to his Reading Ease readability formula in 1949.

From the Introduction

For three hundred years after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, English was mainly spoken by servants. Only in the 14th century did it start creeping into halls of school, business, law, and government.

Since then, English advanced to become the language of the greatest body of poetry ever written. A great variety of prose styles also flour-ished, especially during Elizabethan period. While the governing classes used the florid and polished styles, merchants, artists, farmers, and sea captains developed a straight-forward, plain style of their own.

In the 19th century, educators discovered the simpler style was better for teaching students to read. They began separating students and text-books into different grades. Early in the 20th century, they discovered many adults had limited reading ability. They began looking for scientific methods for matching texts with readers. Some of the best minds in education dedicated themselves to this task, including Edward L. Thorndike, William S. Gray, Ralph Tyler, Edgar Dale, Irving Lorge, and Jeanne S. Chall.

That story is briefly covered in a companion book, Smart Language: Readers, Reading, and the Grading of Text. The purpose of this book is to bring students of reading into contact with this introductory sample of the original articles, methods, and thinking of these educators. In all of them, we see the urgency and pragmatism of the times. I hope that reading them in context will highlight their special place in the story of our remarkable language.


  • Word Knowledge in the Elementary School by Edward L. Thorndike, published November, 1921, in Teachers College Record. Vol. 22, No. 5, pp.334-370.
  • A Method for Measuring the 'Vocabulary Burden' of Textbooks by Bertha A. Lively and Sidney L. Pressey, published in 1923 in Educational Administration and Supervision, Vol. 9, pp. 389-398.
  • An Objective Method of Determining Grade Placement of Children's Reading Material by Vogel, M. and C. Washburne, published in 1928 in Elementary School Journal, Vol. 28, pp. 373-381.
  • A Technique for Measuring the Vocabulary Burden of Textbooks by W. W. Patty, and W. I. Painter, published in 1931 in Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 24, pp. 127-134.
  • The Reading Ability of Parents and Factors Associated with Reading Difficulty of Parent Education Materials by Ralph J. Ojemann, published in 1934 in University of Iowa Studies in Child Welfare, Vol. 8, pp. 11-32 and 251-272.
  • A Study of the Factors Influencing the Difficulty of Reading Materials for Adults of Limited Reading Ability by Edgar Dale and Ralph W. Tyler, published in 1934 in The Library Quarterly, Vol. 4, pp. 384-412.
  • Predicting Readability by Irving Lorge, published March, 1944, published in Teachers College Record, Vol. 45, pp. 404-419.
  • A Formula for Predicting Readability by Edgar Dale and Jeanne S. Chall, pub-lished January 21, 1948, in Educational Research Bulletin, Vol. 27, No.1, pp. 11-20, 28.
  • A Formula for Predicting Readability: Instructions by Edgar Dale and Jeanne S. Chall, published February 28, 1948, in Educational Research Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 37-54.
  • A New Readability Yardstick by Rudolf Flesh, published June, 1948, in Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 32. No. 3, pp. 221-233.