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Articulation and Phonology…What do these terms mean?

10th Sep 2013

Plano Speech TherapySpeech-language pathologists address many kinds of delays and disorders which impact communication, feeding and swallowing.  However, many families are most familiar with speech therapy as a treatment for children with articulation or intelligibility challenges.  Historically, this has been a major area of practice for speech-language pathologists, particularly with the pediatric population.  For families in Plano speech therapy to address articulation and phonological disorders is available at Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas.

Articulation…” according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, (ASHA), “…is the process by which sounds, syllables, and words are formed when your tongue, jaw, teeth, lips, and palate alter the air stream coming from the vocal folds.”  The ability of a young child to develop and produce clear, precise speech by progressing from individual sounds to combining these sounds into meaningful words and ideas, is truly amazing. It is natural for children to exhibit sound errors as they learn to speak, however most children will correct these errors and develop normal speech productions over time. It might be easy to take this outcome for granted unless you have a child who has difficulty producing intelligible speech. Speech errors generally fall into three categories: omissions, substitutions, and distortions. Although some speech production errors, such as, “I wuv my new wabbit” may appear endearing in a young child’s speech, they often  become a source of embarrassment as the child matures. Articulation errors can also be extremely frustrating when family members, friends, or teachers are unable to understand a child’s speech. The chart below, taken from Linda Mawhinney and Mary Scott McTeague (2004) Super Duper Handouts, is a general guideline of sound development showing the expectations of when 90% of children  have mastered the following sounds:

  • By 2 years of age – p, d, m, w, h, n
  • By 3 years of age – t, b, k, g
  • By 4 to 5 years of age – f, v, y
  • By 5 to 7 years of age – s, z, j, l, r, sh, ch, th, blends

Although articulation requires the coordinated movements of the “speech machine”, (i.e., a coordination of the tongue, jaw, teeth, lips, and palate along with the air stream coming from the vocal folds) to produce intelligible speech, phonology deals with the rules of our sound system. Although a child may be capable of producing all of the phonemes that are expected, if he or she breaks one of more of the sound production rules their speech could be noticeably impaired or even unintelligible. A common phonological process error is “fronting” where a sound that should be made at the back of the mouth, (i.e., /k/ or /g/) is made at the front of the mouth, producing a /t/ or /d/ sound, (i.e., cat > tat or good > dood). A child may delete all beginning sounds, (i.e., girl > irl) or ending sounds, (i.e., sun > su). The presence of phonological process patterns can have a significant impact on the intelligibility of speech. As with normal articulation development, children may exhibit some of these error patterns with their sounds as speech is developing. It becomes more significant if these error patterns continue to persist over time, in which case the child may be assessed with a phonological process disorder.

If your child’s speech patterns or intelligibility do not show improvement over time when compared to same aged peers, it is important to pursue an evaluation with a licensed speech-language pathologist.  Children typically make rapid progress in articulation therapy when working with a specialist who knows how to teach the motor movements for correct sound production. A speech therapist also knows which sounds to target based on a child’s age and development, insuring the most efficient use of treatment time.  To learn more about Plano speech therapy visit

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