15. New School Phonology: Prosodic Relationships

Within a framework of prosodic phonology we can see the true interrelationships between “speech” and “language” through the connecting principles of phonology. 

 A school child says, “He kicked the can, ” pronounced,   /’k:I duh ‘kae: /.   


It is traditional to say that there is an omission of final /k/, and the child might have a /k/ sound articulation problem. He is inconsistent.  The phonology interpretation  is that there is a final consonant deletion with movement of the past morpheme /t/ to the following word with initial consonant voicing.  The He morpheme is deleted by weak syllable deletion, since he + kick is a strong-weak (stress-unstress) sequence.   Length (/:/) is added to he to enlongate the intial footed sequence. The second (/:/) in can marks the underlying /n/.  The entire underlying syntactic representation is edited by various phonological processes, and processes operate across word, syllable and morpheme boundaries.


Uncontrolled phonological editing is a kind of an “articulation problem” but the problem is a deficiency in linguistic processing and prosody and not an ability to say sounds.


The idea that articulation is a matter of producing sounds is incorrect.   Restricting the diagnostic analysis to sounds blocks appreciation of the interactions of grammar and phonology, and deficits at higher levels of organization.   In the example we see how sentence morphology interacts with phonology, i.e., morpho-syntax.


Such an analysis solves the mystery of unexplained generalizations of learning, where articulation therapy seems to improve overall intellgibility others soon notice. 


An interesting implication of a failed viewpoint of over-categorization of speech and language sympoms is that practicing school SLPs believe scope of practice is expanding too fast and adding to workload.   Symptom treatment is a losing enterprise.


Assessment and treatment techniques spring up adding to the burden of having more and more therapies to master.  These techniques do not work on the principles of generalization.  So the school SLP must labor teaching every facet of speech and language almost from scratch.   Such micro-teaching is faithfully recorded in IEP records where the potential of generalization across the board and to academic subjects is obscured by unnecessary detail. 


At least SLPs can take advantage of the public relations aspects of articulation treatment.   One can tell teachers they should expect improvements in writing skills and these directly result from “speech therapy.”


The simple truth is that when one manipulates a child’s linguist system by way of controlled communicative interactions (discourse) all hell breaks out and the child begins to add detail to his or her linguistic rule system across modalities.   A cognitive model predicts this at least partially.


A child for whom generalization effects go unnoticed, and unplanned for, in one sense continues to qualify for special education placement with risks of stigmatization, such as being teased for being placed in special education. There is a kind of lowered expectation for improvement resulting from selective assessment and intervention.

(Panagos J, M., & Prelock, P. A., 1997. Prosodic analysis of child speech. Topics in Language Disorders. 17, 1–10)

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