"A ma ii yarsh"
"Eh? what did you say?"
"Yarsh.a ma ii it"
My conversation with a two year old English
speaking Nigerian boy expressing his desire to eat rice.
We get very excited when our babies produce their first words.Its even more exciting when they add more words to their rapidly expanding vocabulary.When your child produces a word for the first time,most times,we are unable to decipher what they are saying.This is because the organs which are responsible for their speech are not fully developed like that of an adult so correct pronunciation of sound is restricted.
Simply put,phonological development is the different stages or phases your child goes through before he is able to pronounce the sounds which of course make up words of his language correctly.
If you'd remember,the first words you child acquired were words such as "ma,ba,ka,pa".Its usually a combination of a vowel and a consonant. As your child acquires more sounds,he acquires sounds that seen in virtually all human languages. They include sounds like [p] as seen in 'pan', [m] as seen in 'man', [s] as seen in 'sat'. Later,they acquire sounds found just in their languages alone(that is the language they are exposed to).
Phonological development occurs in an orderly manner.First is the acquisition of vowels which begins in the cooing stage.After acquiring vowels,your child goes on to acquire consonants.We will discuss this in detail under manner of articulation and place of articulation
Manner of articulation: This describes the way in which air is released during sound production.Under manner of articulation,your child produce sounds following this sequence;
Nasals: Nasals are sounds that are produced when air escapes from the nose.Examples of nasal sounds are [m] in 'man', [n] in 'nail' etc.
Glides :Glides are produced when two speech sounds come close but they don't touch each other so friction is not produced. Eg [w] in 'water'
Stops: In the production of stops,there is a period of total obstruction of airflow due to the firm contact of articulators. This period of obstruction is followed by a sudden release of airflow.Examples of stops include [p] in 'pat', [b] in 'bat', [k] in 'cat'
Liquids: In the production of liquids,the tongue causes a partial closure in the mouth. Example of a liquid sound is [r]. Eg 'rain'.
Fricatives: The sounds that belong to these class are produced when articulators come very close that the only space left for air to escape is very narrow thus,there is a kind of friction as the air escapes which produces a hissing sound. Examples include [s] in 'sit', [f] in 'fish' ,[v] in 'have', [z] in 'zinc'.
Affricate: An affricate is produced when a stop and a fricative come together. The obstruction is like that of a stop but the air is released in a fricative manner. Examples include [ ʧ ] as in 'church' and [dʒ] as in 'jam'
To show that your child acquires sounds following the order above,I put the example below.its the speech of a two year old.Lets call him Ade. The word on the right side show how he pronounced the word on the left.
This data proves what i mentioned above.The first sound in 'sing' is [s] which is a fricative.Ade substituted [t] for [s].At the time of this speech,Ade probably have not learnt how to produce fricatives so he replaces [s], a fricative sound with [t], a stop. Remember that children produce stops before they produce fricative.
Place of articulation:This refers to the place where a sound is produced. For example [p] is produced by the coming together of the upper and lower lips(labials).so it is known as a labial sound. Under the place of articulation, your child starts to produce sounds in the following order;
Labials: Examples of labial sounds are [b] in 'bag', [m] in 'man' [p] in 'put'. Notice that the upper and lower lips come together and create an obstruction before their subsequent release.
Velar: Velar sounds are produced when the back of the tongue makes firm contact with the back of the roof of the mouth.You'd observe this when you try producing words like 'kite', 'gun'. The sounds [g] and [k] are velar sounds.
Alveolar: Alveolar sounds are produced when the tip of the tongue makes contact with the teeth ridge. Try producing 'tin', 'nail', 'den'. So alveolar sounds are [t,d,n,s,z,l].
Palatal: Palatal sounds are produced when the body of the tongue makes contact with the roof of the mouth. Now, pronounce 'yam' slowly. Did you notice the contact? the first sound in the production of yam is represented phonetically as [j]. other examples of [j] sound is seen in 'yes, yatcht,you'.
According to Fromkin et al (2011), the distribution and frequency of a sound in a language can also influence the acquisition of certain sounds. For example, English speaking children acquire [v] sound very late. My three year old brother pronounces van as fan. On the other hand, Swedish speaking children acquire [v] sound very early because the swedish language has many words that begin with [v] that are common to the vocabulary of little children. One might say that the [v] sound is fairly common in the English language so why do English speaking children acquire it so late? In fact at age 4,an English speaking child cannot produce the [v] sound if it starts a word or ends a word.He'd either delete or replace it with another word. They can only produce it when it occurs in the middle of a word Eg 'vivacious'. A four year old can only pronounce the second [v] sound in that word that is -va. This observation made Finegan(2012) to say that frequency of sounds is not the only factor influencing the order children acquire sounds. He said that more influential that frequency is the functional importance of a sound in the phonological system of a language. Example, There is this native language spoken in Malaysia.Children that speak that language learn to produce the [ʤ] sound as seen in the English pronunciation of 'judge' very early while English speaking children learn to produce this sound very late. This is because of functional load. In that Malaysian language,[ʤ] has a high functional load while it does not in English language.Functional load simply means that the replacement of a particular sound in a word in that language with another sound can alter the meaning of a word in that language and such words are rampant in that language. For clarity,i will illustrate functional load with an English sound. [b] and [p] have a high functional load in English.
We notice that the words have the same form except their initial sounds.We deleted the first sound [p] and replaced it with [b] and lo!, the meaning of the word changed.English language have many more words like this little wonder English speaking children acquire these sounds first.
When a normal child who is still developing phonologically is unable to produce some sounds,its not as a result of their inability to hear the correct pronunciation in fact,their brain discern the differences but their speech organs are unable to produce them. I came across a very popular experiment carried out by linguists to illustrate this point. I was excited.I was familiar with it and am sure you're too.when my brother was growing up,he'd say "a mma iii fis".That's "I want to eat fish". Most of the time,i'd repeat after him and say "you want to eat fis?" he'd say "No.fis.a mma ii fis".
Due to their inability to produce sounds correctly,Children modify sounds to correspond with their limited ability.They either substitute or delete.A 2 or 3 year old English speaking child is bound to pronounce 'key' as 'ti'. He replaces [k] with [t]. This is also seen in 'come' which he pronounces as 'tom'. Deletion is seen in his pronunciation of 'spoon' which he calls 'puun'.Here he deletes the initial sound [s]. I have heard a child pronounce 'please' as 'pii'. This child deleted the initial [p] sound and also [l] and [s] sounds respectively. It is very important to point out that children do not substitute and delete carelessly.they follow an order. Normally,children substitute fricatives and replace them with stops.
WHY is is pertinent for you to know all this?its simply because you need to be conversant with every developmental stage of your child.If you don't have the knowledge,how would you know something is wrong? You wouldn't know till its almost too late. Child care is not all about putting cloths on the back of our children and food on their table.It chiefly involves ensuring the psychological well being of our children. If they are hindered in the area of language,there is a feeling of inadequacy that follows.They feel reluctant to talk and in some cases they don't even grasp all that is said to them. This post and others that will come up subsequently takes you through the different levels of language acquisition.A "what if" post will also come up to address issues of language disorders..
Remember,no effort or sacrifice can ever be too much for a child..