Phonological Processes – A child’s normal patterns for simplifying adult speech – Speech Matters – January 2011
By Cheryl D. Lindsay MS S-LP
At about the time that children are beginning to use more words and words in combination, (approximately 18 – 24 months), they also begin to use “phonological processes”.
The term, phonological processes, refers to the normal, predictable, patterns (errors) that children, between the ages of 18 months and five years, typically use to simplify adult speech. Some sounds are harder to produce because a child’s sound system has not developed enough to be able to fully coordinate the movements required for accurate speech. These ‘errors’ are thought to be part of our genetic pre-programming. (Source: www. speech-therapy-information-and-resources.com/phonological-processes.html). If more than one ‘error’ pattern is used, the child’s intelligibility can be greatly reduced. As children grow out of using these phonological processes, their speech becomes easier to understand, and they gradually sound more like adults.
Outlined below are some examples of common patterns children use, and at what age they usually disappear. The names of the error types may sound daunting, but the examples should sound more familiar.
* Word final devoicing – e.g. “bet” for “bed”
gone by 3 years
* Context sensitive voicing – e.g. “gup” for “cup”
gone by 3 years
In the patterns above, it is helpful to understand the terms voiced and voiceless, by placing your fingers on your larynx, (voice box), while saying the sound. With voiced sounds, e.g. /g/, /b/, /d/, you can feel your vocal folds vibrating. With unvoiced sounds, e.g. /k/, /p/, /t/, no vibrations are felt.
* Final consonant deletion – e.g. “ca” for “cat”
-gone by 3 years, 3 months
* Velar fronting – e.g. “tey” for “key”
-gone by 3 years, 6 months
In the pattern shown above, the child is substituting /t/, a sound made at the front of the mouth for /k/, a sound made at the back of the mouth.
* Weak syllable deletion – e.g. “nana” for “banana”
-gone by age 4
In this pattern, the weaker, unstressed syllable is left out.
* Cluster Reduction – e.g. “poon” for “spoon”
-gone by age 4
A cluster is two consonants together e.g. /sp/, /cl/, /tr/
More examples of phonological processes and the ages at which they typically disappear can be found on Caroline Bowen’s website listed below.
(Source: Bowen, C. (1998). Speech and language development in infants and young children. Retrieved on (January 11, 2011) from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/devel1.htm)
If children continue to use these patterns beyond the age of four, there may be a concern. Persistent errors may also put the development of reading and writing at risk; after all, you must be able to say it first, followed by being able to read it, then write it! If you have concerns, a speech-language pathologist can help to determine if a child may be using phonological processes.
(Next Month: Phonological Disorders)