Afrikaans is one of 12 official languages in South Africa, spoken by 6,8 million speakers. However, limited information exists regarding phonological development in speakers of Afrikaans. This study aimed to describe phonological patterns (PP) in Afrikaans-speaking children aged 24–72 months. The study adds a valuable contribution by focusing on and capturing accurate and reliable information regarding the development of PP in specific age and gender groups in Afrikaans first-language speakers, as speech sound disorders (SSDs) are among the most prevalent communication disorders in young children. The identification of an SSD should be based on numerous measures of development as the acquisition of speech sounds is too complex to be measured only through an exclusive data point representing typical development. Additionally, the study comments on the differences in the occurrence of PP between male and female speakers. Therefore, the rationale of this study was to provide speech-language therapists (SLTs) with evidence-based guidelines and data for describing PP in Afrikaans first-language-speaking children. The data can be used to determine whether phonological patterns should be eliminated, or whether their presence is still acceptable since developmental norms are determined to improve on limitations. This rationale leads to the research question: What is the typical description of PP in an Afrikaans first-language speaker in the age group 24–72 months?
The term phonological patterns (PPs), previously known as phonological processes, refers to impediments in the ability and system of voice production and perception of language, resulting in a set of linguistic cognitive abilities that replaces or excludes key phonological components (Asad et al. 2018:11; Rose and Inkelas 2011:1–2). Mispronunciation or alteration of words also occurs due to the lack of complete conceptual understanding of the correct pronunciation of sounds, leading to a specific PP (Fringi et al. 2015:1652). Thus, variations arise in the combination of phonemes (Abou-Elsaad et al. 2019:87), resulting in a phonological disorder (PD). To the researchers’ knowledge no other studies have attempted to evaluate the phenomenon of PPs in Afrikaans-speaking children. Furthermore, no normative data has previously been collected to determine the prevalence rates of PPs within a specific age range (24–72 months) or gender in the Afrikaans-speaking group.
The data of 147 participants, distributed across the age range of 24–72 months, was used for this retrospective study. The study employed a retrospective, descriptive study design with comparative components. This retrospective study used previously collected electronic audio recordings from the research by Pringle et al. (2022) that included the speech production of Afrikaans children. The design allowed for the collection of quantitative data and analysis of the PP types evident in each child’s voice recordings in each age group. The study aimed to determine and describe PPs in Afrikaans first-language-speaking children in the age range 24–72 months. The study had two objectives. The first was to describe the various PPs produced per age group. The second objective was to compare the results of male and female participants for various PPs per age group. The data was analysed by professional SLTs who were divided into panels of three members each for each age group. Statistical analyses were used to determine the results of the study and included using the independent samples two-proportion z-test to determine significant differences (p<0,05) among age groups and gender groups.
Results confirmed that all patterns persisted after 72 months, except for word-final devoicing and vocalisation/vowelisation, which were fully eliminated by 72 months. The gliding of liquids and an approximation of the trill /r/ had the highest prevalence among the participants. Afrikaans children tend to replace the trill /r/ in words with an approximant /ɹ/, a /j/ or a /l/, thus producing an approximation rather than a glide. This approximation and the gliding of liquids displayed the highest prevalence among Afrikaans speakers throughout the cohorts investigated. For all participants in group one (24–35 months) the most prevalent patterns recorded were the approximation of the trill /r/, cluster reduction and weak syllable deletions. For group two (36–47 months), the most common patterns evident in the results were cluster reduction, weak syllable deletion, and velar fronting. The most recorded PPs in group three (48–59 months) were the approximation of the trill /r/, followed by cluster reduction and weak syllable deletion. The results of group four (60–71 months) indicated that cluster reduction represented the highest percentage occurrence, followed by approximations of the trill /r/ and final consonant deletion. For group five (72 months), the most prevalent patterns recorded were the approximation of the trill /r/, cluster reduction and consonant harmony or assimilation. Statistically significant differences occurred in a specific pattern between male and female participants.
The study highlights the contribution that first-language Afrikaans-speaking children manifest different prevalence rates for specific PPs compared with other children of the same age in other languages. PPs show distinct results for individual languages. The results of this study can serve as a guideline for Afrikaans SLTs in private practice or at schools to guide assessment and diagnoses, as well as to guide intervention goals and targets for the specific population. Without the required support through the appropriate type and amount of therapy during the preschool years the risk of academic and socio-emotional difficulties increases. The current study further provides a baseline for future research studies regarding PPs in Afrikaans first-language speakers.
Without any descriptive information regarding the development and occurrence of PPs in children aged 24–72 months, SLTs in South Africa will not have culturally and linguistically appropriate guidelines for phonological development to distinguish between delayed and disordered speech. The current study found significantly differing prevalence rates between male and female participants for specific PPs. No results were found to be similar to the results of other studies regarding prevalence rates or the age of elimination for PPs. The development of PPs is stated to be language specific.
Keywords: Afrikaans; age of elimination; consonant clusters; normative data; phonemes; phonological disorder; phonological patterns; speech sound disorder