Category Archives: Artic/Phonology

Peppa Pig: Go Ahead and Let Your Kids Watch!

One of the special things about having grandchildren is that when you’ve had enough of them, you can give ’em back to their parents. There’s a certain amount of schadenfreude to be reveled in with this, particularly if you had some challenges bringing up your kids in the first place. Although I don’t actually gloat, I can’t but help feel a frisson of pleasure when my darling daughter tells me she’s had a sleepless night because her 3-year-old got up a 3:00 AM and began running round the house, and her 7-year-old had a tantrum before going to school. I simply nod sagely and say, “Yes, it’s rough, isn’t it.” Bad Daddy!

So while she and her husband get all the pain and anguish of living and working with two young kids (and we all know it doesn’t get any easier as they age!) I get to have fun time with them because (a) they only get me in small doses and (b) I can spoil them rotten [1].

Of course, this doesn’t give you free rein to allow total anarchy and hedonistic behavior so you have to at least rationalize your choices when it comes to letting your offspring decide what they want to do. Which brings me to Peppa Pig.

For those unfamiliar with this delightful British cartoon character, Peppa lives with her mummy and daddy and little brother George, who apparently has an expressive language disorder that no-one is in the least bit worried about. His only two utterances appear to be “dinosaur” and “Rrraarrrgggghhhh!” neither of which is core vocabulary and represent only two grammatical classes; noun and interjection. Sure he’s only a toddler pig but come on, his motor skills suggest he’s at least 24 to 30 months, so I’d expect him to have a much larger lexicon!

Language disorder aside, Peppa has an extended family in the form of Grandpa and Granny pig, who appear to be pretty well off considering they have a boat, which is not as common in the UK as in the US [2]. Then she has an extensive network of imaginatively named friends such as Suzy Sheep, Rebecca Rabbit, Zoe Zebra, Emily Elephant, and Delphine Donkey. It seems that initial consonant alliteration is a critical feature of animal nomenclature! But it’s actually a very good way to develop phonological awareness skills. According to Reese, Robertson, Divers, and Schaughency (2015):

…parents who play rhyming or alliteration games with their children, who sing rhyming songs more often with their children, or who engage in other types of wordplay (e.g., tongue twisters), may be fostering their children’s phonological awareness. (p.57).

Wittingly or unwittingly, the writers for Peppa Pig have built in so cute, subtle ways of providing viewers with phonemic cues that can help in speech sound development. And as Reese et al. also point out, “Children’s phonological awareness develops rapidly in the preschool years and is an important contributor to later reading skill. (p.54)” Clinicians and educators are usually much more aware of this. Thatcher (2010) points out that:

Children gain important information about rhyme and alliteration from learning poems and rhymes in which the prosodic features of the poem stress the shared sounds in the word. The profession of speech pathology must take possession of this area of early intervention… (p.476).

But wait, wait – there’s more! The didactic properties of Peppa Pig don’t just end with phonology. For the purpose of analyzing the vocabulary content of the show, I obtained a written set of transcripts from the complete first season [4] and ran the data through WordSmith 7, my trusty corpus linguistics software tool of choice. With this, I’m able to compare the frequency of use of words from the Peppa Pig sample with any other list that I choose. What I wanted to do was get an idea of how “core” the vocabulary in Peppa Pig is, and by “core” I mean how much of the entire vocabulary used is made up of high frequency words used by many people of many ages across different situations [5].

Being the author of Unity 84, a language program available in Prentke Romich devices, I choose the vocabulary associated with that as my core comparison. This is simply because it’s a set based on data from a number of core vocabulary studies and includes hundreds of low frequency nouns, which offer a little balance to a pure core list that would be weak in such words. But so long as I use the same core to make comparisons against other samples, the resulting “Core Scores” will be comparable [6].

So here’s how Peppa Pig fares in the “Core Score” arena.


Core Score for Peppa Pig

What this means is that I counted ALL the instances of where core words were used in Season One, then counted all the instances of fringe words, and generated a simple percentage. So if someone is watching Peppa Pig, almost 83% of all the words they hear will be core words. I therefore give Peppa Pig a “Core Score” rating of 83.

It’s great to be able to toss out a number and say “Hey, this TV show is an 83” but that’s not tremendously useful unless there are comparisons. So I found a transcript for an episode of another of my favorite cartoons shows; SpongeBob SquarePants. And here’s how he did:


SpongeBob SquarePants Core Score

As you can see, SpongeBob gets a “Core Score” of 75, which tells me that my clients would be better off watching Peppa than SpongeBob if I want them to hear more core words. And in general, I would. After all, if I want to encourage clients to use more core words, putting them in situations where they hear lots of models of how those words are used is a solid goal.

Just out of curiosity, I applied the same analysis to three common, popular children’s books; Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Here’s what I found:


Books Core Scores

All of the preceding is not peer-reviewed research. It’s not even close. In fact, I’d even be hesitant to call it a “pilot study.” In the world of Business, it’s what we call a “Proof of Concept” – where you test out a few ideas so as to demonstrate that what you’re thinking about is something on which someone would be prepared to spend money [7]. But if you were to use it to argue the merits of suggesting that watching Peppa Pig is not a bad thing, then I think the data supports your decision!


Reese, E., Robertson, S.-J., Divers, S., & Schaughency, E. (2015). Does the brown banana have a beak? Preschool children’s phonological awareness as a function of parents’ talk about speech sounds. First Language, 35(1), 54-67.

Thatcher, K. L. (2010). The development of phonological awareness with specific language-impaired and typical children. Psychology in the Schools, 47(5), 467-480.

[1] It’s right there as number one in the Grandparent Commandments; “Thou shalt bestow upon thy grand offspring anything and everything they desire, and in the event that this is not possible, thou shalt feel perfectly OK with saying, ‘Oh sweetheart, that’s something to ask mommy and daddy.'”

[2] My older daughter and her husband have a boat on which my wife and I have spent some happy hours letting them do all the work of dragging it to a lake, dropping it in the water, steering it to the nearest lakeside bar, and paying the cost of repairs, maintenance, and storage required so that we can enjoy those 5 days in summer when the nautical life is the thing to embrace. Like having grandkids, having another family member own a boat means you can have all the pleasure but none of the responsibility.

[3] As further evidence that Peppa’s younger brother has a problem, note that he is one of the only character who does NOT have an alliterative name – he is “George Pig” as opposed to, say, Peter Pig or Paul Pig, or even Patrick Pig. So not only has he a more complex name structure to deal with than all the other animals, but he also has that initial “djuh” sound /d͡ʒ/ to struggle against. Poor George!

[4] My source is at “Glamour and Discourse”: Peppa Pig transcripts Season One. In the spirit of transparency, you’re free to use the same data and run your own analyses to see if they match with mine. I think they will but in a world driven by President Donald Trump’s “alternative facts” who’s to know?

[5] New visitors to this blog who are unfamiliar with the notion of what we refer to as a “core” vocabulary set in the field of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) might like to check out the following posts:
Of Puck and Patois
Of Corpora and Concordances
The Monteverde Invincia Stylus Fountain Pen – and Keyword Vocabulary

[6] At a more technical level, the Unity core list is an unlemmatized list that consists “words” that are defined as “a string of letter terminating in a space or punctuation mark.” So the words eat, eats, and eating are counted as three distinct words, even though they are really just variations of the one lemma, <EAT>. A critical question in deciding on what constitutes a “core” list is whether it should include only root words such as eat and drink but not eating and drinking, or whether it should have all forms of a word in there. If you use a core that has eat but not eats, then any TV show or book that uses the word eats would not have that token counted towards a “core score” – but shouldn’t it? I’m open to suggestions, folks!

[7] I intend to test out a few more core lists in order play with the Core Score idea a little more.

The Dudes Do ASHA 2015: Day 1 – Of Snow…

So it had been snowing in Denver. Not a lot. But snow there was. Just one week ago in Ohio I’d been able to wear a T-shirt and ride my motorcycle in unseasonably warm 70 degree temperatures. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact.

The charm of a snow-brushed Denver was somewhat offset by the accompanying bitter chill that my jacket was having a hard time fighting off. The Super Shuttle service, for those who haven’t used it, it located at the extreme edge of the transport area, beyond which appears to be nothing but plains for miles and miles. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to work out that if the wind is blowing in across freezing snow, the wind chill by the bus stand takes on a negative value and unless your willing to snuggle up to lots of folks like chickens in a roost, it’s cold. Another way to tackle the frosty air is to focus you thoughts on something else.

Like snow.

Allegedly, one of the special things about snowflakes is that no two are alike. Every single snowflake is different. In fact, a common metaphor used by the kumbaya brigade [1] is that people are like snowflakes and unique in their own special ways, and all of us are beautiful and special. What the one-world tree huggers fail to include in their metaphorical use is that snowflakes are also cold and short-lived; and while one snowflake might be exquisite, ten billion of the little buggers moving at 50 miles an hour is a blizzard.


Putting my curmudgeonly cynicism aside, what’s more interesting is that I suspect all of us happily accept the “all snowflakes are different” statement as a fact. But based on what? How many snowflakes do you need to look at before you can conclude that no two are alike? Or no three? Surely, you may think, that given the total number of snowflakes that have fallen to the earth since the dawn of time, at least TWO flakes have been the same. Doubtless one of our statistically oriented physics buff readers can supply some mind-bogglingly big numbers regarding snowflakes but math aside, let’s just think a little about what we mean by same and different.

As a Speech-Language Therapist, I’ve been teaching same and different as words and concepts probably from the first time I ever worked face-to-face with a kid. Like most SLPs, I’ve used objects, pictures, symbols, gestures, words, and any number of ways to reinforce what we mean by same and different because it’s a distinction that is critical to how we look at and talk about the world.

In language, “difference” is what marks fundamental distinctions at various levels of a communicative act. For example, at the sound level, whether you use the sound [p] or [pʰ] in a word is not going to make a difference in meaning if you are an English speaker. You might hear a slight variation but folks will not misunderstand you. However, in Hindi, using [p] or [pʰ] can make difference in meaning; [pɑl] means “care for” but [pʰɑl] means “knife.” These types of meaningful differences in speech sounds are what we all “minimal pairs” in Speech and Language Pathology and working with minimal pairs is bread and butter stuff to speechies [2].

The linguist Ferdinand de Saussure made the following statement in his Course in General Linguistics [3];

Concepts are purely differential and defined not by their positive content but negatively by their relations with the other terms of the system.  Their most precise characteristic is in being what they other are not. (p.17)

In other words, it’s differences within a language that are the stuff of speech, not the similarities.

Like all words, same and different are a little grey around the edges; they are not absolutes but “more or less.” Things are only the same so long as we using a pragmatic definition of same that works for us. If I open a can of peas and pour them into a pan to cook, I’d be very likely to say that they are all the same. We even have the expression, “as alike as peas in a pod.” But should I decide that my life is so devoid of meaning that measuring each pea using a micrometer seems like a good idea, I’m going to change my mind as say that the peas are all different. Equally when I say that the great thing about the McDonald’s Big Mac is that it’s the same wherever I buy one, in an absolute sense that’s false because no two Big Macs will ever be “the same” or even taste the same – they will be similar.

Most dictionaries define similar as meaning “resembling but not being identical to.” Logical positivists would probably be happy to argue that the word same should be replaced by the word similar, and hence forth when we’re teaching same and different to kids we should be honest and teach similar and different. Fortunately, most of us work at the level of pragmatic sense rather than absolute scientific truth. The inherent fuzziness of words within a language actually helps us to get on with life rather than banging our heads against a stack of dictionaries trying to find the REAL meaning of a word or the ABSOLUTE TRUTH of a proposition. Sure, they may be some mathematical truths out there, such as 2 + 2 = 4, but in the world of linguistics, imprecision is an inherent feature.

So as I got on the bus for the hotel, I was satisfied to look around and realize that we were all different but in the same profession, and we were all heading for the same conference center but then to different bars for different drinks.

Philosophy can be so comforting at times.

[1] The origin of the word kumbaya is still something of a mystery. In a recent article (The World’s First “Kumbaya” Moment: New Evidence about an Old Song) the author Stephen Winick suggests it originated in the American south as an African Spiritual, with “kumbaya” being a corruption of “come by here.” It’s plausible but there is no solid evidence. The way in which I use it is in a more modern incarnation where it has a pejorative meaning of wishy-washy or naively optimistic. You can even find examples of the phrase “kumbaya moment” in the Corpus of Contemporary American” being used political to deride the actions of the opposition.

[2] For the non-SLPs and non-linguists who follow the Dudes, it can be surprising to learn that the sounds we all use to make words vary across languages and that even a single sound such as a “b” can change depending in where is it being used in a word or phrase. It’s as if a speech sound isn’t a single thing but a cluster of “near enough” sounds. As long as the “b” you say is “near enough” to the “b” I’m used to hearing, then we’re good to go. If you actually record someone speaking a list of words with “b” sounds scattered around them (such as “bottle,” “cabin” “abstract” and “cab”), when you look at the words using speech sound analysis software, you will find that the “b” looks different in each case! The reason that we all think the “b” is always the same is because our brains are actually very good at interpreting “near enough” sounds, which makes life a lot easier.

[3] The original French version, Cours de Linguistique Générale was first published in 1916 after de Saussure’s death, based on the notes he had used for his taught course. It wasn’t until 1959 that an English language version, A Course in General Linguistics was published. It’s generally regarded as a landmark book in linguistics but unlikely to be recommended as an essential read – unless you’re studying the history of Linguistics.

Quinoa Salad and Literacy

Over the past month of so, the written word quinoa has been popping up in my life more than usual. Or should I say, in the interest of accuracy, my perception of the frequency of appearance of the word quinoa has been that its incidence has increased. For those of you who care about evidence-based assertions – and I like to think that’s almost all of you who read the Speech Dudes’ posts – there is a difference in those two statements. For example, if I mention to you now that the number 23 will haunt you mysteriously for the next few weeks, there’s a very good chance that it will. And is that because there is a spooky, paranormal force at work? No, it’s because I’ve just turned on your “Number 23 Detector” and from here on in, your awareness of it has been activated. In other words, the real frequency of occurrence of 23 hasn’t changed – you attention to it has [1].

Quinoa and alfalfa salad

Quinoa and alfalfa salad

The number 23 aside, what’s become apparent is that I’ve been able to read the word quinoa quite happily for as long as I can remember, but I’ve never made the link between how I think it sounds in my head and how it is really pronounced by the rest of the world! Up until now, I’ve imagined that the word is pronounced /kwɪ’nəʊə/ when it’s actually /’ki:nwa:/ [2]. This boils down to that other than the /k/ and the /n/ sounds, I’ve had everything else totally wrong. In my defense, the Merriam-Webster dictionary also includes the variant /kɪ:’nəʊə/, which is closer to my imagined pronunciation; but it’s still without the /w/ as part of the /kw/ blend.

So apart from learning that I’m wrong – a condition that causes me no end of shame and batters my already fragile ego – what else can I learn from this? How much lemonade can I squeeze from this mispronounced lemon?

Well, we can try to work out why I imagined the pronunciation that I did, and that goes back to the process of reading. When you see a word with which you are unfamiliar, you use your current knowledge of letter-sound correspondences to make a “best guess.” In this case, clearly when I look at the “qui…” I think of words such as quick, quibble, quiet, quirky, quins, quintuplet, quit, quip, quill, quintessential [3], quincunx, and the list goes on. In ALL of these words, the letters “qu” represent the blend /kw/, so when faced with “quinoa,” it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think /kwɪ’nəʊə/ is OK.

But this is based on an assumed etymology of “quinoa” being Latin, because in the Latin alphabet, the letters “qu” were used to represent the sound /kw/. English is heavily influenced by words of Latin origin, and its alphabet is also derived from the Latin alphabet. So if you were a betting person, when you see a word that starts with “qu,” you’d win more than you’d lose if you guessed it sounded like /kw/ at the beginning.

Unless the word comes from the South American language called Quechuan, pronounced /’kɛt͡ʃwən/ and not with a /kw/. And quinoa does.

The word quinoa comes from a grain plant native to South America and the grains from this have become popular in the Western world as a health food during the late 20th century. When Spanish colonists moved into South America in the 16th century, they not only brought with them a generous amount of guns, horses, and diseases, but their alphabet. And what’s special about the Spanish alphabet’s letter-sound correspondence it that the sequence “qu” is pronounced as /k/ and NOT the original Latin /kw/. So when they heard the word /’ki:nwa:/, it was a no-brainer to spell it using a “qui” and not a “k” at the beginning. Thus the word quinoa made its way into text along with its /k/-not-/kw/ pronunciation.

Quechuan in South America

Quechua in South America

This incidence of my public shame also serves to remind us of that the relationship between letters and sounds is not always as clear-cut as we might want or imagine. Whether the string “qu” is pronounced /kw/ or /k/ depends not just on the letter themselves but the history and origin of the word [4]. So if I’d known about the Quechuan language, my pronunciation error would never have happened [5], and servers in restaurants wouldn’t be giggling and pointing at me after taking an order.

I should have paid more attention to languages at school.

[1] This type of effect is called Selection Bias, Observational Bias, or, more memorably, Cherry Picking. It can happen both unconsciously, such as my believing that “quinoa” has suddenly become popular, or consciously, such as when I only read articles that support my long-cherished beliefs and ignore/trash those that challenge them. Only in the fruit distribution industry in “cherry picking” a good thing; in Science, it’s bad.

[2] I sometimes forget that some of the folks who read the Speech Dudes blog are unfamiliar with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) or at least don’t use it very often. So here’s another way of writing those pronunciations using a different type of phonetic spelling: [kwih-noh-uh] versus [keen-wah].

[3] I can’t resist this but the word quintessential derives from the Latin quintessence, which translates as “the fifth element,” and which in turn is the title of a delightfully campy and visual stylish sci-fi movie with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. In classical and medieval philosophy, the fifth element was the stuff of stars and something hidden within all things. I guess Moby had the same idea when he produced “We Are All Made of Stars” back in 2002. Once again, you learn the quirkiest of things on a trip to the Dudes’ site!

[4] My modest obsession with etymology as a hobby (and yes, I carry around a little notebook and scribble words down when I hear them – or use Evernote if I’m in a digital mood) is actually usually pretty helpful when it comes to deciphering new words. It’s also a source of pleasure when looking at how words evolve and change over the years. For example, did you realize that the word amazing originally meant “causing distraction, consternation, confusion, dismay; stupefying, terrifying, dreadful,” and not “wonderful and astonishing.” From 1600 to today, it’s pretty much flipped its meaning from something bad to something good. I find that amazing!

[5] In a last-ditch effort to dig myself out of the hole, I should point out that the Oxford English Dictionary does, in fact, include my [kwih-noh-uh] articulation along with the more common, “correct” version. Alas, I suspect this merely reflects that I’m not the only Englishman whose attitude to foreign language is that if English were good enough for God, it’s good enough for the rest of the world. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m only a polyglot in so far as I can speak British English, American English, and a smattering of Canadian English, Australian English, and possible South ‘Efrican and New Zealand English.

Countdown to Christmas – Question 24: Christmas Eve!

OK folks, that’s it – there is no more! Our virtual advent calendar ends today, leaving you all to open that magical 25th door tomorrow, where – when I was a kid – you’d find a piece of Cadbury chocolate and a picture of the baby Jesus in a straw-lined trough.

So as we come to the end of our super-fabulous coffee-giveaway extravaganza, our last question is also about last things. Coming up right after this video of Steely Dan’s “The Last Mall” from their Everything Must Go album.

A syllable is usually defined a having three distinct segments; the ONSET, the NUCLEUS, and the… what?


A few folks offered RIME (or RHYME) as the solution, and in fairness, we should acknowledge that this might be OK. However, when one talks about the three segments that have ONSET and NUCLEUS as the first two, the third is CODA. In the two-part description, one does indeed see ONSET and RIME, but the rime is defined as consisting of the NUCLEUS + CODA, or, in an open syllable, the CODE is absent. So, coda is what we wanted, which also fits in with the idea that this is the “end” of the contest – and coda means “end.”

Syllable structureLinks

The Syllable and the Foot from Macquarie University: nice overview.

Explore syllable structures across languages at the World Atlas of Language Structures online.


Countdown to Christmas – Question 22: Sunday 22nd December

What was the name of the Speech Therapist who worked with the Aflac duck during 2013, as part of the rehab team nursing him back to health after a tragic accident?

(a) Angela Webster

(b) Allison Weber

(c) Andrea Westinghouse

(d) Amanda West

ANSWER: Allison Weber.

Played by Atlanta actress Jammie Patton, Allison Weber is part of a multi-disciplinary rehabilitation team dedicated to bringing the Aflac duck back to full health.


Actress Jammie Patton talks about working with “duck royalty.”

Countdown to Christmas – Question 15: Sunday 15th December

It’s Sunday and a day of rest for many folks. For some, it’s also a religious occasion. And for Pentacostals, it may be an opportunity to indulge in “Speaking with Tongues,” a phenomenon where individuals are moved by an alleged supernatural force to articulate in an inspired – and unknown – language. But what is the scientific name for this?

Speaking in tongues

(a) Glossolalia
(b) Linguaphilia
(c) Lexiosynthesis
(d) Grammatologosia

ANSWER: glossolalia

From the Greek glossa meaning “tongue” or “language” and lalein meaning “to talk or prattle,” glossolalia is a type of fluent speech that is devoid of meaning. It sounds like language but turns out not to be. People tend to use their native phonology to create glossolalic utterances – so if you’re a native English speaker you are unlikely to use /ps/, /ts/, or /ks/ at the beginning of a syllable boundary, but if you are a native Greek speak, you will. In a classic study fron the 1970’s, William Samarin concluded that glossolalia is “unintelligible babbling speech that exhibits superficial phonological similarity to language, without having consistent syntagmatic structure and that is not systematically derived from or related to known language.” [1]


Interesting article from a religious perspective. Holm, R., Wolf, M. and Smith, J.K.A. (2011). New Frontiers in Tongue Research: A Symposium. Journal of Pentacostal Theology, 20, 122-154.

Short video of an example of glossolalia – unfortunately titled [2]:


[1] Samarin, W.J. (1972). Variation and Variables in Religious Glossolalia:  Language in Society, ed. Dell Haymes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pgs. 121-130.

[2] The example here is used because it’s brief and illustrates the point. The title of the video, “Crazy hat lady” is unfortunate because it’s linguistically ambiguous; does it means a lady wearing a crazy hat, or a hat-lady who is crazy? It also shows why hyphens are needed so we can work out if it’s a “crazy-hat lady” or a “crazy hat-lady.” It’s also wrong to insinuate she is crazy because many people of faith are quite sane and sincere people – just misguided in their belief in a non-existent supernatural being.

Countdown to Christmas Quiz: Day 3 – Tuesday 3rd December

Watch this video of a well-known cartoon character from Warner Brothers and then decide what his problem is.

Is it;

(a) Stopping
(b) Fronting
(c) Gliding
(d) Palatalizing

ANSWER: (c) Gliding!

Sounds such as the “l” and the “r” are known as liquids. They are “liquid” in that they are made with the tongue slithering and sliding around in the mouth, behaving as if it doesn’t know whether it wants to make consonants or vowels. So, in a state of permanent indecision, it takes the middle ground and stops the airflow just a little (like a consonant) but hardly makes any real contact with anything in the mouth (like a vowel).

In the popular sit-com, The Big Bang Theory, Professor Barry Kripke has a serious case of gliding, as this excerpt with him trying to use Siri on his iPhone demonstrates:

Gliding is a normal phenomenon in but becomes a potential problem if it’s still around after the age of 5 years.


When do common childhood phonological processes disappear? From Caroline Bowen’s Speech-Language-Therapy dot com website.

Common Phonological Processes: Printable single-sheet handout from SuperDuper Inc.

Countdown to Christmas Quiz: Question 1 – Sunday 1st December

Speech therapists – while not necessarily known for their knowledge of chemistry and geometric structures – use these on a regular basis.  They have a ” zero mean curvature,”  are highly susceptibility to pressure changes, don’t last very long, and usually spherical. They have iridescent qualities and can be seen in the art work of Jean Siméon Chardin and Sir John Everett Millais.  In the 1920’s patents began to emerge supporting the production of these in its most widely know physical structure.   What are they?

ANSWER: Bubbles!

bubble blowing

In nearly every therapist’s bags of tricks, the proverbial bottle of bubbles can be found.  Bubbles are so widely used in speech language therapy that the Dudes have even considered developing a one-hour course to teach proper bubble production, use of plastic wands and pipettes, custom bubble recipes, spill management, and of course Bubble Blowing Etiquette.  Having observed many students (and professionals) using bubbles it’s clear that ASHA’s stance on not including this as part of the standard curriculum for all SLP’s and Aud’s is clearly a travesty of  our current educational paradigm.  We cannot wait to see if ASHA will actually CEU this, but until they do, our most highly regarded suggestion is to test your bubbles in advance to using them in therapy.  If the liquid appears thin, does not maintain elasticity while inserted into your wand, or has SBFS (Sudden Bubble Failure Syndrome), then you need to find some new bubbles.

You might be an “A” student with a 4.0 GPA; you might be the star clinician of your university clinic with you picture on the wall; and you may even be the President of NSSHLA. But if you cannot blow a bubble or you experience SBFS on a regular basis, you have failed in our eyes. Remember, these are not bottles of Bud Light that have “born on dates,” or the milk that has been sitting in your fridge since the beginning of the semester. Bubbles are known for being used well past their shelf life and there is no indication of when SBFS can occur.  SBFS is sudden, random, and preventable. So get some fresh bubbles.  Stop splattering in little kids’ faces.  Show us your best bubble blowing skills.

At one time, bubble blowing was recommended as a non-speech motor exercise to facilitate the development of speech sounds. However, research now suggests that learning to blow bubbles doesn’t make /p/ or /b/ sounds easier – it just improves your bubble blowing skills. Still, there are many other reasons to use bubble blowing in therapy!


Using bubbles for language therapy

NOT using bubbles for articulation therapy: NSOME

Tmesis: A Whole Nother Word to Use!

I’m guessing that Speech Pathologists and Linguists develop, over the years, an ear for the odd. By that, I mean we learn to hear quirky things that pass most people by. One of these is the phrase, “But that’s a whole nother thing.” Really? Nother? Is that even a word?

It’s clear that the intent here is to use the words another and whole in a similar way as phrases like “That’s a whole different ballgame” or “That’s another thing altogether,” but somehow the words get mixed up and whole gets wedged into the word another and out pops “a whole nother.”

Because this is an educational site and we hope that folks always leave us feeling that they’ve learned something, there is a name for this phenomenon of slapping a word smack bang into the middle of another; tmesis. You may also like to know that is comes from the Greek τμῆσις meaning “a cutting,” which described how one word is cut into two pieces and a second slotted in.

tmesisTmesis is more typically seen in the realm of profanity. Only last night on the new EsquireTV channel, one of the chefs competing in an edition of the show, “Knife Fight,” said that she was feeling “fan-fucking-tastic” that she’d won. Well, the fucking was bleeped out but you didn’t have to be a skilled lip reader to know what she said. In the UK, something can be “un-bloody-likely” or “abso-bloody-lutely un-fucking-believable.” This insertion of an expletive even has a name; expletive infixation. [1]

So let’s dig a little deeper here. An infix is a type of affix that appears in the middle of a word, and an affix is a morpheme that can be attached to a word to form a new word. In English, we have prefixes that go before and word, and suffixes that go after. Here are a few examples;

Prefixes: un-, dis-, pre
unlikely, unbelievable, unhappy, unsure
disable, disappear, disarmed, dishonest
prepaid, prenuptial, prelinguistic, prefix

Suffixes: –ing, –ly, –er
meeting, running, drinking, sleeping
happily, sadly, unhappily, controversially
happier, sadder, reader, editor

Sometimes the prefixes and suffixes may change a little depending on what other letters are around. For example, in– and im– are the same prefix but you chose in– in front of words made with the tongue just behind the teeth (dental) and im– if the word that follows is made with the lips (bilabial). [2] The same thing happens with the em– and en– prefixes: you empower someone (the letter “p” in power is made with the lips, and you encircle something (the letter “c” in circle is made with the tongue just behind the teeth).

This little foray into tmesis and prefixes leads us back to the “whole nother” issue, and a short trip in an etymological time machine will show us something very interesting about what’s happening here.

Many years ago, in the times of Chaucer, the word another was, in fact, two words; either an + other or – surprise! – a + nother. During the 14th century, the word nother was used as a variant of other and appeared with the article a. In his 1374 work, Anelida and Arcite, Chaucer wrote;

And sawe a noþere ladye proude and nuwe

Notice the split form here – a and nother sitting happily side by side. However, by Shakespeare’s time, the words had fused into another. In Macbeth, Act III, scene I, we see:

And I another
So weary with disasters, tugg’d with fortune,
That I would set my life on any chance,
To mend it, or be rid on ‘t.

He does at times use a split version, but as “an other” and not “a nother.” And by the 18th and 19th centuries, both “an other” and “a nother” appear to have disappeared altogether, with another being the form of choice for writers. Thus, we started with “an other” and “a nother” but changed over a period of a few hundred years to the single word, another.

What we may be seeing now is a re-splitting of the single word brought about the tmetic infixing [3] of the word whole. And what’s also interesting is that although the word other is used very, very frequently in many situations, the tmesis is between a and nother – a word that doesn’t exist in modern English – and not an and other, which would make some grammatical sense.

But that’s because this splitting doesn’t have to make grammatical sense but phonetic sense; in other words, the choice of where to make the split is not dictated by grammatical accuracy but by phonetic ease. Simply put, it’s easier to say “a whole nother” than “an whole other.”

The word whole starts with a “h” sound, even though it’s written with a “w,” and there’s a rule in English that helps you make the unconscious choice of whether a word is preceded by the article “an” or “a.” If the following word is a consonant, you use “a”; if a vowel, use “an.” So you have “a dog,” “a cat,” “a broom,” and “a spoon,” but in contrast, you have “an egg,” “an ovary,” “an operation,” and “an elephant.” The “h” sound behaves like a consonant so you get “a house,” “a Hobbit,” “a handkerchief,” and “a whole.” [4] Again, don’t let the “w” fool you – the word is pronounced “hole” (/həʊl/).

So when it comes to wedging whole into another, that unconscious rule pushes you to create “a whole nother” and not “an whole other” because “an whole” breaks the rule. The fact that you might not “know” this rule overtly doesn’t mean that is isn’t there covertly. And the current use of “a whole nother” is further evidence of its existence.

Our discomfort at hearing this phrase is partly brought about because with our grammar hats on, we expect to hear “a whole other”and we balk at the non-word, nother. However,  the phenomenon is, as I argued, driven by phonological rules and not syntactic or lexical, and from this perspective, “a whole nother” is oddly correct! This doesn’t mean the Dudes recommend using it – but we do recognize it as a pretty neat linguistic phenomenon.

Join us next time for another fan-bloody-tastic adventure into the world of speech and language!

[1] For a classic article on this, you should check out McCarthy, J. (1982) Prosodic Structure and Expletive Infixation, Language, 58(3), 574-590, available online via JSTOR at

[2] Those of you who are ahead of the curve might say, “But what about words such as ingrowing and ingress which have a “g” after the prefix – why is it in– and not something else?” Well phonetically, it is something else because in both these cases, the actual sound of the “n” turns out to be “ng” – as in “sing” or “bang.” The “n” changes to match the position of the tongue in the sound “g,” which linguists and speechies call “velar.” So for those of you who can read the International Phonetic Alphabet, here are the rules for the in-/im- prefix:

a. “in-” [ɪn] -> [ɪn] /_[+dental]
b. “in-” [ɪn] -> [ɪŋ] /_[+velar]
c. “in-” [ɪn] -> [m] /_[+bilabial]

Give yourself 10 extra smart points if that made sense! And you thought all speechies did was teach people how to say “How now, brown cow!”

[3] Go ahead. Try slipping “tmetic infixing” into a conversation and see what happens! I guarantee that your Perceived Pretentiousness Score (PPS) will hit an all-time high, and your success at impressing potential romantic partners will hit an all-time low. The Dudes don’t need to worry about this because they already have a high PPS and are married so have no need to impress anyone. My wife just rolls her eyes and suggests I get another drink.

[4] There are situations where a word is written using the letter “h” but doesn’t actually have the sound of the “h” but a vowel sound. In these cases, the article an is used. So the words hour and honest are written with an “h” but pronounced as “our” and “onest” (/aʊə/ and /ɒnɪst/). Typically, these are words that came from Old French, and French, as we know, is one of those languages where the “h” sound doesn’t appear at the beginning of words.

Why Scarves are important to Speech Pathologists

In a recent poll of Speech and Language Pathologists  (The #SLPeeps Top 10 SLP Gifts) held by the folks at LessonPix, the number one object of infinite desire was… the scarf! Talk about stereotypes fulfilled. Tragically, this Dude was one of those who voted for the scarf, and readily admits to having a small collection of the things (you have to match with your coats and jackets – duh!) so perhaps it’s not necessarily surprising.

University of Lancaster UK Fylde College scarf

My new scarf

Of course, the other factor that may be biasing the results is that the poll is taking place just as the weather is becoming peppered with snow and the temperatures are falling faster than Mitt Romney’s post-election popularity [1]. So the stores are currently filled with more scarves than Santa has elves.

And so speaking of scarves and elves

One of the standard areas of concern for SLPs is teaching plurals. To be more accurate, teaching the phonological realizations of a morphological process that creates plural forms from a singular morpheme base. I toss that in because some folks seem to think that the Dudes are trivial, unprofessional, and simply out for a good time. That may have some veracity about it, but we are very aware that not everyone who reads this blog is, in fact, an SLP. So our role is to entertain and educate a broad church, and to promote the idea that SLPs are more than middle-class gentile ladies who wear scarves with twin-sets and pearls. Well, OK, so we do wear scarves…

Therapeutically speaking, we can use the scarf as a way of teaching a rather limited set of weird plural forms, namely those nouns that end in an /f/ sound when singular but turn into a /vz/ when plural. Here’s the list;

calf – calves
life – lives
thief – thieves
elf – elves
loaf – loaves
wife – wives
half – halves
self – selves
wolf – wolves
leaf – leaves
shelf – shelves

There are ongoing discussions about dwarfdwarfs/dwarves, with linguists typically coming down on the side of dwarves but Disney still insisting on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – and you don’t mess with the Mouse unless you want a law suit in the mail [2].

Historically, these “irregular” plurals come from a “regular” source – Old English. You see, one of the common plurals in OE was the ending “-as,” and so you would talk about one wulf or wif (wolf and wife [3]) but two or more wulfas or wifas. But there was also a rule in existence that said that all fricatives (such as /f/ or /s/) would become voiced (change to /v/ or /z/) when they were stuffed between two other voiced sounds, which includes vowels. So seeing as the /f/ in wulfas and wifas sat between vowels, they were pronounced as /’wulvæz/ and /’waɪvæz/. Finally, over time, the final unstressed vowel was dropped leaving /’wulvz/ and /’waɪvz/.


But the fun doesn’t stop here, oh no! Just to keep the excitement going, the word scarf doesn’t come from the Old English and wasn’t around with the wolves, wives, elves, leaves, or sheaves, and didn’t make an appearance in the English lexicon until the middle of the 16th century. It’s not absolutely certain, but odds are that scarf comes from Old Northern French escarpe meaning “a sash” or “a sling for a wounded arm.” At that time, folks did talk about wearing scarfs but in the 18th century, it became mor fashionable to wear scarves, the plural swap being influenced by those old Old English “irregulars.”

Using my old friend, the Corpus of Historical American, I was able to produce the following graphs that show how scarfs declined as scarves ascended.

Use of the word scarf over time

“Scarfs” over time

Use of the word scarves over time

“Scarves” over time

As a confirmatory check, I also did a Google N-gram search:

The words scarfs and scarves over time

“Scarfs” and “scarves” over time

We could stop here and say “so that’s why you should teach scarves and not scarfs” and be done with it, but there’s just one more wonderful little quirk of English I’d like to point out.

“My dog is a hungry wee beastie. Whenever I give him some food, he scarfs it down as if he’d never eaten before.” So why doesn’t he *scarve it down?

Well, when the word scarf appears as a verb, it comes from a completely different place. It is, in fact, a variation of the word scoff, which is in turn a slang word for “to eat voraciously” or “to devour hungrily.” This word made its appearance at the beginning of the 19th century and so it’s subject to the rules of Modern English grammar, not Old English. When you add the third-person verb ending of “s” to scoff, it becomes plain old scoffs, and in Modern English, the final sound takes on the voicing of the preceding sound, hence /’skɒfs/.

So there you have it! SLPs love scarves because they remind us about phonological processes that change words over time, processes that changed the pronunciation of plural and verb morphology, and even about the history of the English language.

Or maybe we just like the colors…

[1] I’m not given to engaging in political discussions but yesterday I drove past a gas station here in Ohio where the price of a gallon was $2.98, and less than a month ago I was listening to Republican pundits prophesying how gas prices would rocket if Obama were elected. They were so sure, certain, positive, and adamant about the truth of the assertion that there are only two conclusions to draw from their pontificating; either there were wrong (in which case they are no smarter than anyone who can scrawl an “X” on a ballot so not worth listening to) or they were lying (in which case they are lying bastards and will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.) If there’s a third alternative, let me know.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, a linguistics scholar, argued for the use of dwarves, and all his works use that. But the venerable Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges the words dwarfs as a plural, thus queering the pitch even further. Way back in 1862, Ernest Adams wrote The Elements of the English Language and noted that the forms dwarf/dwarves seemed to be in free variation, but that “in modern English the form in f is preferred” (p.39).

[3] Before someone smacks me over the head with very heavy copies of Beowulf or Caedmon’s Hymn, I am aware that since Old English was first spoken, there has been a Great Vowel Shift that changed the pronunciation of many words. So in my example of /’waɪf/ should really have had the long “eee” vowel, /i/ and been /’wif/ if we’re going to be more accurate. However, whether the vowel is /aɪ/ or /i/, the rule that changed /f/ and /s/ to /v/ and /z/ would still have applied.