Review: Phonological Development and Disorders in Children

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EDITORS: Hua, Zhu; Dodd, Barbara

TITLE: Phonological Development and Disorders in Children

SUBTITLE: A Multilingual Perspective

SERIES: Child Language and Child Development

PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters

YEAR: 2006

ISBN: 1853598895


This volume is a collection of articles describing typical and atypical articulatory and phonological development in a variety of languages of very different types. As part of the Multilingual Matters’ series on Child language and child development: Multilingual-multicultural perspectives, the book aims to use multilingual studies to deepen our understanding of universals of developmental phonology. Its stated aim is “to integrate research on a range of languages to examine phonological acquisition and disorder.”


The book is divided in to four sections, the first is an introduction to the multilingual research paradigm, the second, contains eight reports of typical and atypical phonological development in a variety of languages, the third addresses bilingual development, and the final section returns to the idea of language universals and serves as a conclusion.

Section 1 consists of 2 chapters. Chapter 1 by Hua and Dodd, explains the theoretical importance of multilingual studies, briefly reviews the ideas of universals of phonological development and challenges to these universals. Explanations of phonological development such as markedness, articulatory complexity and functional load are presented. Then differences and similarities of monolingual and bilingual development are reviewed. Clinical populations are briefly mentioned. Chapter 2 by Hua gives criteria and guidelines for multilingual research, which facilitate multilingual research which can be integrated into a single body of knowledge.

Section 2, entitled ‘Monolingual context’, begins with a report on English phonology by Dodd, Holm, Hua, Crosbie and Broomfield. The structure of this chapter is consistent for all the chapters in this section. The geographic location of the language is shown on a map, the phonological system of the language is described, typical acquisition is reported based on previous research, the current research into typical acquisition is presented, and a perspective on atypical development is given. Lack of data on developmental error patterns is the motivation for the current study, this lack largely resulting from differences in methodologies used. A large (over 600) sample of British children aged 3-6 years old were tested on articulation and phonological tests (DEAP, Dodd, et al, 2002). Results were summarized as: phonetic inventory, error patterns (age appropriate, delayed, unusual), and percentage of phonemes correct. Phonological accuracy was found to improve with age, gender did not affect performance until the older ages where girls performed better than boys, and socioeconomic status did not affect accuracy. The theoretical account does not provide a rationale why gender and socio-economic status would or would not be predicted to affect phonological accuracy. The clinical application of these data is perhaps the most pertinent information provided in this chapter. Four classifications of developmental disorders are defined: articulatory disorder, phonological delay, consistent phonological disorder, and inconsistent phonological disorder. The validity for the classification system based on a study of speech pathology services in England is given.

Chapter 4 by Fox provides evidence from developmental German. The basic structure of the previous chapter is followed. The current investigation results in normative data on children’s phonetic inventories, phonemic inventories, and developmental processes. I found some comments surprising, for instance the reported rarity of the substitution of interdental fricatives for dental fricatives (an interdental lisp) a process common in English (which has interdental fricatives) and for instance in Hebrew (which does not). The explanation given for this phenomenon seems to me unnecessary. Furthermore, the note that this does not improve over time does not take into account the young age of the oldest children in this study and the relatively late age this inhibition of interdental lisping has been found in some populations. Differences in age of acquisition of specific phoneme groups are noted, but the consistent sequence of acquisition is not emphasized. The use of the same classification system as for the English study in the previous chapter promotes cross-linguistic comparison of the error patterns found and the clinical populations described.

Chapter 5 by Hua reports on developmental standard Chinese. Again, first there is a useful description of the phonological system of the language, including both phonemic and syllabic information. Previous research is summarized in a table then discussed in the text including the development of accuracy and developmental error patterns. As opposed to previous chapters, in this chapter a case study is brought to illustrate each subtype of phonological disorder. The principle of phonological saliency being related to frequency of occurrence (i.e. the more frequent a phoneme in the language the more salient it is) and the related idea that languages which have fewer phonemes in a particular position will have greater saliency for this position is presented to explain differences between development in different languages. Note that this is directly opposed to the idea (e.g. by the theory of phonology as human behavior, e.g. Tobin 1997), that the communicative importance, and therefore saliency of a syllabic position will be greater if the phonemic options for filling that syllabic position are greater.

Chapter 6, by So, goes on to examine Cantonese. A phonological profile of Cantonese is provided. Before presenting data on phonological development in Cantonese, So surveys speech pathology services in Hong Kong. The current study reports data from 268 children aged 2 through 6 years. Results were similar to English developmental patterns. Error patterns were found to be syllabic, primarily affecting syllable initial consonants. Criteria for an error pattern were use by more than 10% of the sample at any age group. For Cantonese (and previously for standard Chinese) a consistent developmental sequence for tonal languages emerges – tones are acquired first then vowels, followed by syllable final consonants and lastly syllable initial consonants. It is suggested that although sequence of phoneme acquisition appears consistent across languages, differences in rate of acquisition may reflect the ‘functional load’ or communicative importance of different phonemic contrasts for a particular language. The same classification system is used as in previous chapters, facilitating cross-linguistic comparison of the impaired population. An interesting point is made that inconsistent phonological behavior may occur in the course of intervention. The similarity of disorder patterns across languages is emphasized.

Chapter 7 by Grech continues with a report of the acquisition of Maltese. There is the brief review of the history of Maltese and its phonological characteristics. The overview is distinguished by its very clear definition of terms and the explicit theoretical orientation given for the characterization of Maltese chosen. The fact that most Maltese speakers are bilingual (English) speakers is noted. Phonological processes and morpho-phonological rules are listed. In describing the methodology of the main study reported here, Grech points out that the two different aims of developmental study require conflicting methodologies. Research into phonological processes is best suited to longitudinal studies while cross-sectional studies are more appropriate for collecting developmental norms. Grech studied 21 children’s development of Maltese in spontaneous speech (to allow for cross word processes) and in a picture naming test (to promote inter-subject consistency and longitudinal intra-subject consistency). Spontaneous speech samples were minimally 50 one-word utterances and a few multiple word utterances. Criteria for defining processes, the phonetic inventory, and phoneme mastery are clearly given. Development is seen as acquisition of feature distinctions for phonemes and the development of syllable structures (which approximated the adult model earlier than did the phonemes). Development of phonological process is described in detail but only minimally compared to other languages. A section relating the interaction of Maltese morphological structure and development serves as an example of the possible interaction between the developments of different subsystems of language. A brief survey of two cases of phonological disorders and a summary of available speech therapy services follow.

In Chapter 8 Vasanata provides the first chapter concentrating on disordered phonology with evidence from hearing impairment in the Dravidian language, Telegu. As previously the introduction includes a sociolinguistic and structural overview of Telegu. The overview includes sections on consonants and consonant clusters, vowels, phoneme frequencies and syllable structures. Available developmental data from one study shows vowel contrasts developing before consonant contrasts. Nasals and voiceless stops precede voiced stops, affricates and semi-vowels. The retroflex distinction develops relatively late, as do clusters and multi-syllabic syllable structures. The role of sonority in determining a CV syllable structure with a non-sonorant C as the earliest developing syllable structure is discussed. As opposed to previous chapters, this chapter devotes more space to orthography and the relationship between phonology and literacy. The nature of speech-language pathology services in India is brought as explanatory of the (lack of) diagnosis of phonological disorders in India. The chapter then concentrates on a study of the developmental phonology of three oral pre-lingual hearing impaired children. Assessment is based on naming 100 pictures, a specially designed test of phonological contrastiveness and reading and spelling tests. Vasanata concludes with the importance of phonological tests which take into account orthography and that are geared to the nature of the target language. Furthermore, treatment goals should also consider phonotactics. The importance of syllable level assessment and intervention as opposed to segment level is stressed.

Chapter 9 returns to the format of chapters 3 through 7. Ammar and Morsi provide an account of typical and atypical development of colloquial Egyptian Arabic. Geographic and linguistic information and a review of previous research provide the background for the present study. The method for the current study was picture/object naming or delayed imitation). Children were 3 – 5 years old. For the first time in this volume, a quantitative threshold for phonological process therapy, 25%, is suggested. The only process reaching the therapy criterion is devoicing, a process also occurring in developing English. This study was duplicated with phonologically disordered children, aged up to 9 years. The majority showed phonological patterns similar to their younger typically developing peers. Two cases with deviant – as opposed to delayed – patterns are described. A short paragraph relates the data to language universals.

Chapter 10 on development and disorders of Turkish phonology by Topbas and Yavas concludes the section on monolingual phonological development. This chapter is set up in a slightly different order with the survey of the phonology of Turkish following a brief description of speech-language therapy serviced in Turkey. A table summarizes previous research into Turkish phonological development. The four-way classification presented in previous chapters is adopted here as well for atypical Turkish phonetic-phonological development. The current study aims to provide norms for Turkish development and includes longitudinal, cross-sectional and atypical data. Longitudinal data were collected using pictures and toys from an articulation-phonology test during a play session with parents. Cross-sectional data were collected by students in nurseries and primary schools. Atypical data were collected by students in the university diagnostic clinic. The test tasks include naming (and imitation if necessary), discrimination and picture description. The criteria for acquisition were consistent with those reported in previous chapters. Discrepancies between children’s production on naming tasks and on spontaneous speech are noted. The use of tables and graphs to show phonological development is especially successful in this chapter. The patterns found are compared only generally to other languages.

Part 3 deals with bilingual phonological development. It begins with a study of Spanish-English bilingual (SEB) phonology by Yavas and Goldstein. The introduction begins with the importance of recognizing where typical bilingual phonology differs from typical monolingual phonology in order to allow atypical bilingual phonology to be recognized. As in the previous section of this book, before entering into a discussion of the phonological development of the languages under discussion, a comparative survey of the phonetics and phonology of these languages is provided. The implications of dialectical differences are emphasized. Previous studies have showed that bilingual development of Spanish and English differs from monolingual development for both populations. The first current study investigates the English phonology of the SEBs. The authors provide clear definitions of who they consider to be bilingual for this study, important for allowing comparison with other studies of ‘bilingual’ children. Data were collected using a single word productive task. There was a trend towards greater phonological stability and accuracy, and more accurate cluster production with increased age from 4 to 6 years. The second study concentrates on the universality of the sonority sequencing principle for bilingual development. Data were collected using picture descriptions. Results support the application of the sonority sequencing principle to the productions of this bilingual population in English. Difficulty children may have in acquiring two sound systems becomes evident particularly in more difficulty to produce sound classes like glides, while earlier developing sounds are unaffected. Norms from monolingual children cannot be applied to bilingual children speaking the same language(s).

In Chapter 12 Holm and Dodd describe the case of Cantonese – English bilingualism. The authors take advantage of previous research into monolingual Cantonese and English development to provide a succinct comparative summary of the adult phonological systems and developmental patterns of the two languages. They then present the current study which expands knowledge of Cantonese – (Australian) English bilingual phonological acquisition between 2 and 5 years. Data collected included spontaneous speech samples and standardized (single word) assessments for each of the languages. Data from the two languages was collected separately, by different speech pathologists. In addition a rough measure of English language comprehension was obtained. Classifications for phonetic inventory and phonological processes in the data analysis are consistent with those reported in previous chapters. The phonetic repertoires of only three quarters of the bilingual children were age appropriate by English monolingual norms, primarily due to young children’s devoicing of voiced stops. Cantonese accuracy for the bilinguals did not differ from the monolinguals, however, English accuracy did. Note that the children had all begun to acquire Cantonese before being exposed to English. Analysis of phonological processes showed that the children used different processes in the two languages. Overall, only age significantly affected the various systems of phonological development. More atypical processes were used by bilinguals than monolinguals. A second longitudinal study of one child in the first year of exposure to English is also reported. Data was collected separately in Cantonese and in English throughout the study. Data included spontaneous speech samples and standardized tests. Three stages are described: silence, English heard mainly by elicited imitation; beginning of use of imitated expressions in rituals; use of spontaneous English. It appears that the phonetic development for each language paralleled monolingual development; however, the limited use of English makes a comparison possible only form the third stage. The conclusion is that articulatory maturity parallels maturation, and therefore affects different languages at the same time in the same way. The advent of English affected the phonological processes detrimentally in Cantonese. Atypical processes were found for both languages, although, the basic phonotactic rules of the language were preserved. Two distinct phonological systems are evident, leading to the conclusion that the bilingual children use a single articulatory system and distinct phonological systems (p.307). Up to two years appear necessary to obtain accuracy in second language akin to accuracy in first. A concept of ‘normal bilingual processes’ which may be atypical for monolinguals is introduced. The comprehension of the language is found to affect speech accuracy. Two explanations are suggested: overburden results in errors or an inability to process both phonological systems in sufficient detail. A third study presented investigated intervention with a bilingual child. Articulation therapy for /s/ distortion is described. Therapy in English rendered improvement in Cantonese. Then phonological therapy for cluster reduction and gliding was introduced in English. There was no transfer to Cantonese. Clinical implications are clearly stated.

Chapter 13 by Stow and Pert describes the case of three Pakistani heritage languages and English. As for previous chapters we are given a survey of the sociolinguistic history of the population and its languages and dialects. To achieve a base of normal bilingual Pakistani heritage – English phonological behavior, children aged 1;7 through 7 were screened using a one word naming task. Two clinical cases are described, but no analysis of the data is given. There are basic normative data for clinical comparison. But the evaluation and analysis are far less detailed than in previous chapters.

Chapter 14 by Ball, Muller and Munro discusses Welsh-English bilingualism. This chapter begins with a survey of Welsh phonology, specifying segmental level, phonotactic and suprasegmental characteristics as well as mutational processes. A description of speech therapy services and current assessment procedures precedes the section on previous acquisition research. Children aged 2;6 to 5, divided by 6 month intervals participated in the normative study. Children were classified according to which language (Welsh or English was dominant. Data was analyzed for the phonological system for each child for each language and for the simplifying processes used in each language. Data were from a single word naming task. Children’s spontaneous multi-word utterances during the naming task were recorded. Criteria for acquisition of a sound were somewhat different than in the other studies reported in this volume. Substitution patterns for the two languages differed. Also, there was increased variability in the phonological system of the non-dominant language. A dominance effect was seen and this has obvious implications for evaluating bilingual phonology where the child’s performance needs be compared not only to bilingual normative data (as opposed to monolingual norms for each spoken language) but also the dominant language must be considered. Two case studies of disordered phonology form an older study are brought. For the first case, the articulatory disorder found, was similar for both languages. In addition there were phonological processes which differed for the two languages. For the second case, the child demonstrated an ‘inconsistent speech disorder’ a phonological disorder in both languages although the manifestations of the disorder in the two languages were different. Both children would be considered delayed and disordered in terms of phonological processes of English as compared to monolingual data. The restrictions on the assessment and remediation of little studied languages are emphasized and further research is encouraged.

Chapter 15 by Khattab follows with an account of Arabic-English bilingualism. In the introduction to this chapter the author presents how the present study differs from others presented in this volume and gives the rationale for the unique presentation. In the background given for the study, the author raises theoretical and practical issues in using contrastive phonemic inventories as evidence of phonological systems and emphasizes the non-phonemic distinctions which may distinguish two languages and mark a speaker as typical or atypical. The emphasis here is sociolinguistic with the target for the child’s production in each language being the speakers of the languages in his/her communicative environment. There follows a comparative survey of Lebanese Arabic consonants. Data collection involved naming, narrative and spontaneous play situations for children and naming narrative and interview situations for the adults. Bilingual children were recorded twice, once in each language. Code switching utterances were analyzed separately. By comparison of children’s productions with adults in their environment it becomes apparent that some cases of inconsistency are related not only to developmental but also to environmental factors. Especially interesting was a familial tendency to use emphatics which highlights accent (even family accent) influence. Similarly, a pre-voicing nasalization pattern which was found in one bilingual child was also apparent in his mother’s speech. The articulatory difficulty of voicing lead explains a cross-linguistic developmental effect for this feature. VOT development for the bilinguals in this study did not parallel that of monolinguals. The important of age of exposure in feature acquisition is demonstrated by a comparison of two brothers’ acquisition of the voice lead feature.

This is the first chapter in this book to look at socio-phonetic features or phonetic features affected by non-linguistic factors such as age, dialect and style. The bilingual children demonstrated similar dialectical preferences for allophones of English /l/ as did their monolingual peers. For r-like sounds, bilinguals showed more variability than their monolingual peers. Data from code-switching were compared with that of English only productions. VOT and rhotic features varied with the language context. Input is important especially in dialectical, allophonic variation which characterized the socio-dialect of his/her language environment. Furthermore, the children’s adaptation of an ‘accented’ production of English words while speaking Arabic reflects consideration of their communicative partner’s needs. This chapter does not consider clinical populations.

The last chapter in this section by So and Leung discusses Cantonese-Putonghua bilingualism. The authors begin with the assertion that bilinguals begin to differentiate phonological systems at the age of two years. A survey of Putongha and a comparison of the Cantonese and Putonghan phonological systems are presented. This is the first chapter where it is clear that the authors see their contribution as part of a volume, this is evident in reference to other chapters and refraining from repetition of information provided in previous chapters. Data was collected form 40 children aged 2;6 to 5;6 in two separate single language sessions. A segmental phonology test involving picture naming was presented in each language. Spontaneous speech samples were also obtained for all but the youngest children. The analysis of the data was similar though not identical to that used in most of the studies in this book. A phonemic inventory and phonological processes were described for each language. The bilinguals acquired Cantonese consonant phonemes later but according to the same sequence as their monolingual peers. Vowel acquisition ages paralleled monolinguals. Phonological patterns persisted later for bilingual speakers and some atypical processes were demonstrated. A similar pattern emerged for Putonghua, although some sounds emerged earlier for the bilinguals. Atypical phonology in the bilinguals is attributed to decreased exposure to each of the two languages. Interference was also considered a contributing factor with children acquiring features present in only one language more slowly than those present in both languages. In general, Putonghua was less affected, probably because it was the dominant language.

Chapter 17. In this final chapter, Hua and Dodd provide the first really unifying discussion of the volume. The mass of data presented in the previous sections is summarized by tables and in the accompanying discussion according to the topics covered: phonetic inventories of the languages studied, developmental data (by phonemic and phonological process development), bilingual phenomena, and atypical developmental data (classified by the four point classification system used in various chapters). Explanations for patterns that emerged and exceptions to these patterns are brought forward.


I found it difficult to determine the target audience for this volume. I found a mass of interesting information on typical and atypical, monolingual and bilingual phonological development on primarily little studied languages, with occasional insights that have very practical implications for my clinical work. On the one hand the theoretician will find interest in the wealth of detail on a range of languages and language combinations in language acquisition. On the other hand the clinician working in a specific language will find a major source of normative data for monolingual and bilingual phonological development, in many cases previously unavailable or inaccessible. This data can form the basis of comparison in the evaluation and treatment of children in these less studied languages. As a reference book for clinicians, in each case, usually only one or two chapters will be relevant. The generalizations given in the final chapter will be helpful to theoreticians and clinicians, no matter their language of study.

Differences in therapeutic practices resulting from different classifications are not discussed, perhaps being beyond the scope of this volume. This would certainly be a next step in the research program. Despite the attempt to form a unified body of knowledge using parallel methodologies, definitions and criteria, discrepancies still remain in the systems and criteria used to describe the typical and atypical development.

As a speech-language pathologist, I have treated a large number of bilinguals. In my current practice, probably 50% of the children I see are bilingual. Still the various language combinations I have met (Arabic-Hebrew, English-Italian, English-Greek, English-Hebrew, Russian-Hebrew, Argentinean-Hebrew, Italian-Hebrew, French-Hebrew) are not addressed. This is perhaps indicative of just how widespread bilingualism is and how much is left to study!

I would have expected more careful editing. Some chapters are written with awkwardly expressed English, in some cases, to the extent that the authors’ intention is unclear. For instance in Chapter 12 we are consistently referred to the results for ‘each child’ when the results of only one child are brought. Apparently because of data reported elsewhere. A dotted line is referred to on p. 370 which I couldn’t find. These and other examples of inexact editing detract from the cohesion of the volume and make reading difficult.

In summary, this volume contributes a vast amount of information on the phonological development of little studied languages and language combinations. It provides data for the researcher into monolingual and bilingual typical and atypical phonological development. As well, the clinician will find useful normative data and therapy guidelines. The intensity of the book makes it heavy reading, but the effort is worth-while.


Dodd, B., Zhu, H., Crosbie, S., Holm, A. and Ozanne, A. 2002. Diagnostic Evaluation of Articulation and Phonology London: Psychological Corporation.

Tobin, Yishai 1997. Phonology as Human Behavior: Theoretical implications and clinical applications. Durham, N.C./London. Duke University Press


Leah Gedalyovich is currently assisting in research into Hebrew G-SLI at the Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She combines research with part-time work as a speech-language pathologist in pre-school and school settings. In addition, she teaches an introductory course in phonetics and phonology, and academic English. Research interests include normative first language acquisition (primarily of Hebrew), language disorders, the interaction of semantics and pragmatics and the clinical application of linguistic theory.

2 thoughts on “Review: Phonological Development and Disorders in Children

  1. Sadegh

    I’m a student of Speech&Lang. Pathology in Iran.Here are not any standard test to evaluate speech disorders,Therefore I decided to translate and standerize an articulation test applying to study and treatment for Persian-speakers.But I cann’t provide any standard test(even English tests) and enough experience to standerize it in Persian language, therefore if it is possible please guide me how to do it,and send me the test by the below address.
    Sincerely yours.

    Sadegh Seifpanahi

    Zahedan University of Medical Sciences

    Dept of Speech and Language Pathology

    Razmjoo moghadam Laboratory

    Kafami Street



  2. Dharam Vir

    Dear Sir,
    Hello! I am developing an articulation test in Punjabi
    Language.If you have some artical’s in relation to the
    construction of articulation test than please send me
    those articals.I shall be highly obliged.

    Your’s sincerely,
    Dharam Vir
    Faculity (Speech Language Pathologit)
    Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research
    Chandigarh.India.Pin 160012.
    Residence phone No.01722783503

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