Phonological Processes

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What is a Phonological Process?

     Have you ever heard your child say words like “wain” for “rain”, or “pane” for “plane”? For some, it can be extremely cute to hear a child speak in this manner, and while it’s a natural characteristic of speech development, it’s definitely something worth learning more about. Why does this happen? While learning to coordinate the tongue, lips, jaw, teeth, and palate to make speech sounds, all children will display speech sound errors. As children develop speech-language skills, they simplify words until they have learned to articulate all sounds in words appropriately. Childrens’ brains learn these patterns of speech sound errors, which are called phonological processes. These patterns are completely natural and expected. In fact, it is arguably more surprising to see a 2-year old with “perfect” adult speech, than it would be a 2-year old with sound errors. 

    Phonological processes have been classified into three different types of categories: substitution processes, syllable structure processes, and assimilation processes. Table 1 provides a description of these three different types: 

Table 1

Substitution Processes The replacement of one class of sounds, with another class of sounds (e.g., “Get” → “Det”)
Syllable Structure Processes The reduction, omission, or repetition of syllables in a word(e.g., “Star” → “Tar”)
Assimilation Processes The resemblance of syllables/sounds to surrounding sounds (e.g., “Sippy Cup” → “Pippy Pup”)

  There are a variety of phonological processes that fall within each of these three categories, and the majority of children will suppress each distinct phonological process around the same age-range. Below please find Table 2 for more information on the most common phonological processes with the approximate ages at which children suppress them, both for monolingual English speakers and for bilingual English-Spanish speakers.

Star Key for Table 2

* Substitution Process
** Syllable Structure Process
*** Assimilation Process

Table 2 – Most Common Phonological Processes 

Common Phonological Process Definition Example Age of Elimination for Monolingual English Speakers(ASHA, Shriberg) Age of Elimination for Bilingual English-Spanish Speakers  (Goldstein+)
Final Consonant Deletion ** When the final consonant in the word is omitted  “Ca-” instead of “Cat” 3;0 years  3;0 years
Velar Assimilation *** When a non-velar sound like “t”, changes to velar sound (sound made in back of the mouth), like “k”, due to the presence of a velar sound within the word  “Kuck” instead of “Tuck”  3;0 years  3;0 years
Nasal Assimilation *** When a non-nasal sounds like “y” changes to a nasal sound like “m”, due to the presence of a nasal sound within a word “Mummy” instead of “Yummy”  3;0 years  3;0 years
Stopping *

When a fricative like “f” is substitutedwith a stop consonant like “p” 

“Pun” instead of “Fun”  /f, s/ — 3;0 years/z, v/ — 4;0 yearssh, ch, j, th — 5;0 years 5;0 years
Fronting * When a velar (sound made in back of mouth), like “k”, is replaced with an alveolar (sound made in the front of the mouth), like “t” “Tat” instead of “Cat” 4;0 years 3;0 years
Weak Syllable Deletion ** When the weak syllable in a word is omitted “Cho-late” instead of “chocolate”  4;0 years 3;0 years
Deaffrication * When an affricate, like “ch”, is replaced with a fricative like “s” “Sip” instead of “Chip”  4;0 years
Cluster Reduction ** When a consonant cluster, like “cl”, is simplified into a single consonant “Coud” instead of “Cloud” with /s/ — 5;0 yearswithout /s/ — 4;0 years 5;0 years
Gliding * When a liquid such as “r”,  is replaced with a glide, such as “w” “Wain” instead of “Rain” 6;0-7;0 years 5;0 years

“Fabiano and Goldstein, 2010; Goldstein and Iglesias, 2006; Shriberg, 1995
Taken from: Developmental Speech and Language Norms for Spanish and English – Bilinguistics 2015”

What is a Phonological Disorder? 

     So what happens if a child displays phonological processes past the typical age of suppression? Or if a child is using an excessive amount of phonological processes, making it extremely difficult to understand him/her? These observations may be indicative of a phonological disorder. If you have a child and you are finding others are having a difficult time understanding him/her, it is useful to know how intelligible, or understandable, your child should be based on his/her age. Please use Table 3 below as a reference. 

Table 3 – Speech Intelligibility 

Age Speech Intelligibility Level 
19-24 months 25% – 50%
2-3 years 50% – 75%
4-5 years 75% – 90% 
5+ years 90% – 100% 
Penna-Brooks, Adrianna & Hedge, M.N. (2007). Assessment and treatment of articulation and phonological disorders
 in children (2nd Edition. Austin: TX: Pro-Ed. 

Treatment for a Phonological Disorder 

     It can be difficult to process if your child is unintelligible to others, as it may cause frustration for your child. Children with phonological disorders may have tantrums displaying  crying, screaming, sighing loudly, stomping, or throwing objects. They may also display “aggressive” behaviors such as biting, hitting, pulling, and shoving. Many times, these behaviors are due to feeling misunderstood by others and feeling unable to effectively communicate wants/needs. It is not only hard for the child, but also for the parent/caretaker. Rest assured, most children will exhibit improved speech intelligibility with time;  furthermore, that is what speech-language pathologists and their teams are here for. Consistent speech therapy can be highly effective to target the phonological processes, so that speech intelligibility can increase at a faster rate. 

Here at Exceptional Speech Therapy, we feel grateful to have PROMPT trained speech-language pathologists on our team, as they have the added asset in helping children improve motor planning of the articulators, such as the jaw, lips, and mouth, which are necessary for speech (look out for a future blog that will discuss motor planning difficulties in more depth!). They are trained to use a hands-on approach to help a child coordinate his/her articulators in the accurate position, in order to produce target sounds/words effectively. 

All of our therapists ensure that children gain confidence in both their communication skills, and in themselves. Our passion lies in helping children improve in every possible aspect. We want children to have fun while they learn skills to better their overall communication. In future blogs, we also will be sharing specific treatment techniques to treat phonological processes (e.g., how to help eliminate final consonant deletion [FCD]), so that you can use them at home too! 

    If you feel like your child may have a phonological disorder or if you have any other questions regarding your child’s communication skills, please do not hesitate to give us a call at Exceptional Speech Therapy at (786) 717-5649 to schedule an evaluation or free screening with a skilled speech-language pathologist. Additionally, we are happy to announce that we currently provide evaluations via teletherapy throughout the entire state of Florida! If you are not able to make it to the clinic, we will conduct a thorough assessment in the comfort of your own home, via live audio and video communication. 

We wish you the very best in helping your children become successful communicators!

Written by: Andrea Scola, M.S. SLP-CF, Exceptional Speech Therapy Blog Writer 







References: 

“Speech Sound Disorders: Articulation and Phonology: Signs and Symptoms.” Speech Sound Disorders: Articulation and Phonology: Signs and Symptoms, ASHA, www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589935321§ion=Signs_and_Symptoms.

Penna-Brooks, Adrianna & Hedge, M.N. (2007). Assessment and treatment of articulation and phonological disorders in children (2nd Edition. Austin: TX: Pro-Ed. 

Fabiano and Goldstein, 2010; Goldstein and Iglesias, 2006; Shriberg, 1995

Taken from: Developmental Speech and Language Norms for Spanish and English – Bilinguistics 2015. 

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