3 Types of Phonological Processes and Disorders

I previously wrote a blog about Articulation Disorders and Therapy, and while writing that blog, I thought it would also be beneficial to touch on Phonological Disorders/Processes.

After receiving articulation therapy, is your child still very difficult to understand?

Does their speech sound like mumbling or disjointed?

If so, your child may be struggling with another speech disorder related to phonological processes. This blog will discuss the definition of phonological processes and give you a basic overview of the different types of errors that can occur. As always, I encourage anyone reading this who suspects that their child or a child they know might be having struggling with this speech disorder to check out Speech Blubs as a supplement to your speech practice, or contact a speech-language pathologist in your area for an evaluation. 

Definition and Explanation of Phonological Processes

Typically, these are speech patterns that developing children use when they are learning speech sounds. They form these patterns because they do not yet have the skills to produce the words accurately and clearly. For example, you may hear children say the word, ‘plane,’ but it comes out at ‘pane.’ They may also delete sounds in the word, such as ‘nana’ for ‘banana.’ There are many different patterns that can occur in a child’s speech, which is “normal” until it isn’t. 

A phonological disorder occurs when the patterns that the child is using exist beyond the period of time that “typical” children have stopped using them, or when the errors are much more different than expected. For example, if the child is using the phonological process of “reduplication,” like saying “wawa” for “water” by the age of 4, we would say that he/she is delayed because that process typically ends in children by the age of 3. 

The excessive use of phonological patterns that are atypical can be described as a disorder because when multiple processes are used, it creates speech that is unintelligible. As a result, if you have a child who is not speaking clearly and no one can understand him/her, it’s important to make sure they are screened for a phonological disorder and have a clear treatment plan. I’m going to give you an overview of the most COMMON processes, and what a speech pathologist sees most frequently. Just know that there are many more processes, but for the purpose of this blog, it’s not necessary for you to know!

Different Types of Phonological Processes

Type 1: Substitutions

Substitutions – These are errors where correct sounds are replaced with different sounds, making the word unintelligible. 

BackingWhen alvoelar sounds, like /t/ and /d/, are substituted with velar sounds like /k/ and /g/.

Backing is basically when the sounds that should be produced in the front of the mouth, are replaced with sounds that are created in the back of the mouth. For example, the word /dog/ may be replaced with the word /kog/. This is usually seen in more severe phonological delays. 

FrontingWhen a velar or palatal sounds, like /k/, /g/ and /sh/, are substituted with alveolar sounds like /t/, /d/ and /s/.

Fronting is the exact opposite of backing. This is when sounds that should be created in the back of the mouth, are made in the front. For example, the child might say /toe/ for /go/. This process usually disappears in typical children by 3.5 years old. 

GlidingWhen /r/ becomes a /w/, and /l/ becomes a /w/ or /y/ sound.

Gliding is the /r/ sound is replaced with the /w/ sound and the /l/ sound is replaced with a /w/ or /y/. For example, the child might say /yewow/ for /yellow/. This process is present in typically developing children until the age of 6-6.5. 

StoppingWhen a fricative (like /f/ or /s/) or affricate (/ch/, /j/) is substituted with a stop consonant like /p/ or /d/.

Stopping is when a sound like /f/, /s/, /ch/, or /j/ is substituted with sounds that are short and explosive, like /p/ or /d/. For example, a child might say /dip/ instead of /chip/ or /dish/ instead of /fish/. These types of substitutions should all be gone by the age of 5. 

VowelizationWhen the /l/ or /er/ sounds are replaced with a vowel.

Vowelization is exactly what it sounds like; when a sound like /l/ is replaced with a vowel sound. For example, a child might say /papuh/ for /paper/. 

AffricationWhen a nonaffricate is replaced with affricate /ch/ or /j/.

Affrication is when a sound like /t/ or /d/ is replaced with the /ch/ or /j/ sound. An example of this process is saying /duice/ for /juice/. This process will disappear by the age of 3. 

DeaffricationWhen an affricate, like /ch/ or /j/, is replaced with a fricative or stop like /sh/ or /d/.

Deaffrication is when the /ch/ or /j/ sound is replaced with sounds that are produced more in the front of the mouth. For example, a child might say /ships/ for /chips/. The process will stop in children by the age of 4. 

LabelizationWhen a nonlabial sound is replaced with a labial sound.

Labialization is when the child takes a sound that is not supposed to be made with the lips and makes it that way. For example, they may say /pie/ for /dye/ or /pip/ for /tip/. 

Type 2: Assimilations

Assimilations are errors that are produced with a child takes a sound and replaces it with sounds that are similar or that are produced in the same way, but that isn’t the correct phoneme they should be using. 

ReduplicationWhen a complete or incomplete syllable is repeated.

Reduplication occurs when sounds are produced repeatedly during a word. For example, the child might say /baba/ instead of /bottle/. This will disappear by the age of 3. 

AssimilationWhen a consonant sound starts to sound like another sound in the word.

Assimilation is when the child produces a sound that he or she already heard in the word. For example, they might say “dod” instead of “dog.” This process will eliminate itself by the age of 3. 

Prevocalic voicingWhen a voiceless consonant in the beginning of a word like /k/ or /f/ is substituted with a voiced consonant like /g/ or /v/.

Pre-vocalic Voicing is when a voiceless consonant in the beginning of the word is replaced with a voiced consonant. The child might be heard saying /pook/ instead of /book/. This will end by the age of 6. 

Type 3: Syllable Structure

Syllable structure changes occur when a child takes a word and deletes, adds or modifies the word in some way that makes it incorrect. 

Cluster reductionWhen a consonant cluster is reduced to a single consonant.

Cluster reduction is when a child takes two sounds that are produced together and replaces them with another sound. For example, the word /tree/ may sound like /tee/. 

Final consonant deletionWhen a final consonant of a word is left off.

Final consonant deletion is when the last sound of the word is left off. For example, the word /dog/ may sound like /do/. This process should stop by the age of 3. 

Initial consonant deletionWhen an initial consonant of a word is left off.

Initial consonant deletion is when the first sound of the word is left off. The child may say the word /oor/ instead of /door/. The deleting of the first consonant is typically seen in more severe cases of phonological disorders. 

Again, there are many more types of errors, but as a speech pathologist for the last 10 years, these are the most common errors that I have seen. If you suspect your child might have a phonological disorder, please get them screened or evaluated by a speech-language pathologist and check out Speech Blubs for more information!


Stacie Bennett, Speech-Language Pathologist, speech therapy

Stacie Bennett has been practicing as a Speech-Language Pathologist for the past ten years. Currently, she works full-time at a vocational high school in New Jersey and have her own private practice. Feel free to contact Stacie if you have any questions!

“My two year old had it for less than a week and he’s already saying more”

Mariah C., Mom

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