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What is a phonological process?

Updated: Jul 18, 2021



We’ve all heard children simplify sounds and use speech sound errors. When they are younger it’s not only a typical part of sound development, but it’s also really cute. When a 2 year old says “wabbit” instead of ‘rabbit’ or “tato” instead of ‘potato’, it’s really sweet and we are excited that the child is using the word, even if it’s not pronounced correctly.


As children grow up and their language begins to mature, their articulation matures too and these errors should go away.


In this blog we are going answer these few common questions:


  1. What is a phonological process?

  2. What are the different types of processes?

  3. When should they go away?

  4. Are there atypical processes?

  5. What should I do if they do not go away?


1. What is a phonological process?


Phonological processes are patterns of sound errors that are used by typically developing children to simplify speech as they are learning to talk. Typically, children stop using these errors by a certain age.


2 + 3. What are the different types of processes and when should they go away?


There are many different processes, but we are going to focus on the most common ones.


Fronting - when a child substitutes sounds that should be produced in the back of the mouth (like ‘k’ and ‘g’) for sounds that are produced in the front of the mouth (like ‘t’ and ‘d’). Try it out to see what we mean about front and back. Say the word “go” and feel where that is produced. Now say the word “dough” and feel where that is produced. COOL!


Stopping - When the following sounds /f, s, z,v, sh, ch, j, th/, which SLP’s refer to as fricatives and affricates, are replaced with /p, b, t, d/, which SLP’s refer to as stops.


Gliding - When the /l and r/ sounds are replaced with /w and y/. Like the example we used earlier, when a child says “wabbit” instead of ‘rabbit,’ this is considered gliding.’



Cluster Reduction - When a child simplifies a consonant cluster (when 2 consonants are together in a word), like ‘st’ in the word ‘stop’, by leaving out one of the consonant sounds (“top” instead of ‘stop’).


Weak Syllable Deletion - When a child leaves out the unstressed syllable in a word. This tends to be with multisyllabic words. An example of this process would be a child saying “tato” instead of ‘potato.’


Final Consonant Deletion - This is exactly what it sounds like, it is when a child does not produce the final consonant in a word. For example, they say ‘ca’ for ‘cat,’ dropping the /t/ at the end of the word.



One last very common phonological process is reduplication. This is when a child repeats a syllable from the word (example: “baba” for ‘bottle’ or "wawa" for 'water'). This is expected to stop around age 3.


4. Are there atypical processes?


Yes, there are processes that are not part of typical speech sound development. Some of these would include:


Backing - the opposite of fronting, when the sounds that should be produced in the front of the mouth are produced in the back. (Example: “cap” instead of ‘tap’ or "got" instead of 'dot' ).


Initial Consonant Deletion - When a child leaves off the initial consonant in a word (example: “at” instead of ‘cat’).


Vowel Error Patterns - When a child makes vowel sound errors.


5. What should I do if they do not go away?


A phonological disorder occurs when a child continues to use phonological processes beyond the age when most typically developing children have stopped using them or when a child is using atypical processes.


The research shows that if a child does not grow out of phonological processes by the age that most typically developing children do, then they might need to seek out speech therapy to be evaluated. Please see our article on When to Seek Out an SLP for more information.


References

https://www.asha.org/practice-portal/clinical-topics/articulation-and-phonology/selected-phonological-processes/

Bauman-Waengler, J. A. (2012). Articulatory and phonological impairments. New York, NY: Pearson Higher Education.

Bernthal, J., Bankson, N. W., & Flipsen, P., Jr. (2013). Articulation and phonological disorders. New York, NY: Pearson Higher Education.

Peña-Brooks, A., & Hegde, M. N. (2015). Assessment and Treatment of Speech Sound Disorders in Children: A Dual-Level Text. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Shipley, K. G., & McAfee, J. G. (2016). Assessment in speech-language pathology: A resource manual. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.



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