This study investigated whether the quality and specification of phonological representations in early language development would predict later skilled reading. Two perceptual identification experiments were performed with skilled readers. In Experiment 1, spelling difficulties in Grade 1 were used as a proxy measure for poorly specified representations in early language development. In Experiment 2, difficulties in perceiving and representing liquid and nasalized phonemes in final consonant clusters were used for the same purpose. Both experiments showed that words that were more likely to develop underspecified lexical representations in early language development remained more difficult in skilled reading. This finding suggests that early linguistic difficulties in speech perception and structuring of lexical representations may constrain the long-term organization and dynamics of the skilled adult reading system. The present data thus challenge the assumption that skilled reading can be fully understood without taking into account linguistic constraints acting upon the beginning reader.