Phonological Processes: Definition & Goals

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

Learning to speak properly is a complicated process that results in typical error patterns as children develop. In this lesson, we will identify and define normal phonological processes, provide examples of each, and identify typical ages for elimination of errors.

Common Error Patterns

Just as children learn to walk before they run, there are certain processes they must go through when learning to speak. The predictable speech errors are called phonological processes. Lack of coordination in the lips, tongue, teeth, palate, and jaw is responsible for the child's inability to speak clearly. If a child's speech patterns deviate from these processes or do not correct within the expected time frame, the child may need to be tested for a phonological disorder. Let's examine errors that are a completely normal part of the developmental process and discuss typical ages that students should begin to 'outgrow' each error.


Many times young children substitute the correct phoneme with a replacement sound.

  • Backing is when alveolar sounds (/t/, /d/) are replaced with velars sounds (/k/,/g/). For example, a child might say, 'gaggy' instead of 'daddy.' This is likely an indication of a phonological disorder.
  • Fronting is when velar or palatal sounds (/k/, /g/, /sh/) are replaced with aveolar sounds (/t/, /d/, /s/). For example, a child may say 'tat' instead of 'cat.'
  • Gliding is when the /r/ is pronounced as a /w/ or /y/. For example, 'cawy' instead of 'carry.'
  • Stopping is when a fricative (/s/, /f/) is replaced with a stop consonant (/p/, /d/). For example, the student says 'pun' instead of 'sun.'
  • Vowelization is when the /l/ or /er/ is substituted by a vowel. For example, 'cuddle' is pronounced 'cuddo.'
  • Affrication is when a non-affricate is substituted by an affricate (/ch/ or /j/). For example, the child says 'jookie' instead of 'cookie.'
  • Deaffrication is when the child replaces an affricate (/ch/, /j/) with a fricative (/s/, /f/) or stop (/p/, /d/). For example, 'juice' would be pronounced 'duice.'
  • Alveolarization is replacing a non-alveolar sound with an aveolar (/t/, /d/, /s/). For example, 'cheese' is pronounced 'deese.'
  • Depalatization is when a palatal sound (/k/, /g/, /sh/) is replaced by a non-palatal sound. For example, 'tare' is used instead of 'share.'
  • Labialization is when a labial (/p/, /v/, /m/, /w/) replaces a non-labial sound. For example, the child says 'pat' instead of 'cat.'


Assimilation occurs in speech when the student is unable to produce the correct phoneme, but the outcome is closely related to the sound they are trying to make.

  • Assimilation is when a consonant sounds similar to another consonant sound within the same word. For example 'bug' sounds like 'bub.'
  • Denasalization is when a nasal sound (/m/, /n/) changes to a non-nasal sound, such as /b/ or /d/. For example, 'name' sounds like 'dame.'
  • Final consonant devoicing is when the /b/ or /d/ at the end of the word is substituted with a voiceless consonant (/p/, /t/). For example, the student may say 'sat' instead of 'sad.'
  • Prevocalic voicing is when a voiceless consonant (/k/, /f/) is replaced by a voiced consonant (/g/, /v/). For example, 'candy' is pronounced 'gandy.'
  • Coalescence is when a phoneme is substituted for another phoneme with similarities. For example, 'rest' is pronounced 'resh.'
  • Reduplication is when a syllable is repeated. For example, 'dada' replaces 'daddy.'

Syllable Structure

Other phonological processes are related to the way syllables are organized.

  • Cluster reduction is when a child changes a consonant cluster into a singular sound. For example, the child may say 'bue' instead of 'blue.'
  • Initial consonant deletion is when the beginning phoneme of the word is omitted. This is generally a sign of a phonological disorder. For example, the child may say '-uice' instead of 'juice.'
  • Weak syllable deletion is when an unstressed syllable is omitted. For example, the child may say 'puter' for 'computer.'
  • Epenthesis is when a child adds an additional sound, such as /uh/ between two consonants. For example, the child says 'buh-read' instead of 'bread.'

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