Phonological processes (or phonological deviations) are predictable pronunciation “errors” that all English-speaking children make while they are developing the adult sound-system. These are hardly errors but rather systematic strategies that children devise to simplify the production of complex words that are beyond their current abilities. Phonological processes occur when children respond to inherent limitations on their word perception and production with interim solutions that enable them to approximate adult words.
Linguistic studies have shown that, rather than emerging randomly, children’s pronunciation attempts appear to rely on fixed patterns and rules. Indeed, linguists have described a number of phonological processes that are common in young English learners. For instance, “word-final devoicing” occurs when a terminal voiced consonant in a word is replaced with a voiceless consonant: pig becomes “pick”; red becomes “ret.” On the other hand, “consonant harmony” occurs when the presence of a prominent sound in a word influences how the whole word is pronounced: mine becomes “mime”; kitty cat becomes “tittytat.” In “weak syllable deletion” the unstressed syllables in a complex word are omitted: telephone becomes “teffone”; potato becomes “tato.” Linguists have also estimate the age by which each type of phonological process “typically” resolves, with most resolving by five years of age. While phonological processes are identified in all young children, their persistence beyond the expected age may be indicative of an underlying phonological impairment. Speech intelligibility may be reduced in adult individuals with such impairment.