12. New School Phonology: The Fragmentation Problem

Old notions of speech therapy fragment current  thinking about school phonology. Here are some illustrations of the point.




1. Commercial Products.   Companies publish speech, language and hearing materials for school speech-language pathologists.   Authors are often working practitioners.   Materials correspond in rough manner to professional scope of practice categories.   To use only one example, LinguiSystems (East Moline, Ill, Spring catalog, 2011) divides speech and language products accordingly:



Vocabulary and Concepts



Phonological Awareness and Reading

Listening and Auditory Processing Grammar


All of these categories are interrelated in the actual processing of language.   For a catalog they are handy divisions.   But they are not an analogue of how the mind works in an SLI child being considered for enrollment in special education.


2. Scope of Practice.   The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association publishes information on scope of practice for speech-language pathologists.  This is made available to the public to state what SLPs can and cannot do.   Here language scope is defined:


“language (comprehension and expression)





pragmatics (language use, social aspects of communication)

literacy (reading, writing, spelling)

prelinguistic communication (e.g., joint attention, intentionality, communicative signaling)

paralinguistic communication”


Again, the interrelationships among the sub-categories of langauge are not spelled out.




3. Wikipedia.   Wikipedia is an internet-based open source enterprise allowing individuals and groups of individuals to publish information on a wide range of topics of public interest.  A recent description of speech-pathology distinguishes language and language processing and literacy:


“….language (i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatic/social aspects of communication) including comprehension and expression in oral, written, graphic, and manual modalities;


language processing; preliteracy and language-based literacy skills, phonological awareness.”


We see the taxonomic approach to specific areas of deficit.   This breakdown is like the ASHA scope of practice but notice phonological awareness is separated from phonology.


In a related section we learn about speech sound disorders:


“Speech sound disorders involve difficulty in producing specific speech sounds (most often certain consonants, such as /s/ or /r/), and are subdivided into articulation disorders (also called phonetic disorders) and phonemic disorders. Articulation disorders are characterized by difficulty learning to physically produce sounds.”


Now “articulation” is completely disassociated from language and phonology.




Another Wiki entry for school speech pathology defines articulation problems without reference to phonology.


“An articulation disorder may be diagnosed when a child has difficulty producing phonemes, or speech sounds, correctly. When classifying a sound, speech pathologists refer to the manner of articulation, the place of articulation, and voicing. A speech sound disorder may include one or more errors of place, manner, or voicing of the phoneme.”






Fragmentation such as illustrated above results from the application of the “diagnostic-prescriptive” philosophy in which symptoms are classified and treated as independent disorders.  This view ignores dynamic assessment and relational thinking such as that which can be achieved via cognitive models.   When “processing” is mentioned it remains a category of treatment, not an integrating principle of assessment and intervention. 


Professor Judy Duchan traces the growth of speech-language pathology and describes the how different categories of intervention evolved as entities added to scope of practice. 




In structural linguistics prior to the modern era classification was considered to be the essence of characterizing the language system.   Leonard Bloomfield was known for it.    The American linguist Noam Chomsky and colleagues circa 1960 expressed the relationsional principle with reference to “sound-meaning” correspondences.   Phonology builds relationships between thoughts, speech and perception when talking about linguistic performance. It has had that historical role since Paul Broca identified the “faculty of speech” in 1861 though modern cognitive science has moved welll beyond localization of function.   Cognitive processing rests in the realm of “linguistic performance” as Chomsky called it.   During the “moment of speech,” there is a dynamic interplay among components of speech and language to achieve adaptive fluent expression.


The interrelationships among language abilities is the basis for generalization of learning.  SLI children are incapable of processing discrete categories as described in commercial catalogues.  They use a wide  variety of processing strategies to drill down into specific details, and accordingly see relationships and generalize.  When therapies are poorly constructed, as in very restrictive drill and practice routines, the children continue to process beyond the material presented, generalizing on their own.  SLPs might not even notice these generalizations.  Teachers and parents sometimes report progress in other areas SLPs are surprised to hear about.



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