Erica Zollman, M.Ed., CCC-SLP
When programming an augmentative/
alternative communication (AAC) device or
creating a communication board, it is important to
distinguish between different types of vocabulary.
By carefully planning or programming a device,
parents and speech-language pathologists (SLPs)
enable children to produce a variety of meaningful
phrases and sentences.
Core Vocabulary: Core vocabulary refers to words that speakers use
frequently across multiple settings, such as the park, school, and home.
These high-frequency words bridge topics and environments, and children
can easily combine them to form meaningful phrases and sentences. Core
vocabulary words are typically pronouns, verbs, and demonstratives, such as
it, go, want, eat, I, this, and no.
Fringe Vocabulary: Fringe vocabulary refers to a specific set of low frequency
vocabulary words that are specific to a particular person or
activity. Fringe vocabulary words are typically nouns. Examples of fringe
vocabulary words include bat, home run, base, and pitcher. Again, these
words are highly specific to a single activity and are generally only useful
when talking about baseball.
Why does it matter?
Because a single page on a device or board contains a limited amount
of space, SLPs and parents must carefully choose vocabulary.
A student can use core vocabulary words to talk about a variety of
topics for different purposes. For example, a student may have no, you, I,
want, go, and more programmed on his device. How many messages can
this student make? The student can combine words to make requests, such
as “I want more,” or “I want it.” The student may also combine words to
make rejections, such as “No more.” Finally, a student can attempt to make
directives, like “You go.”
The context of a core vocabulary word determines the meaning of
the message. If a student says “I want to go” in the context of a board
game, he is indicating that he would like a turn to play. The same message
in the context of a conversation regarding the grocery store indicates that
the student physically wants to go to the store. In the context of a nonpreferred
activity, a student might use the same phrase to indicate that he is
ready to leave.
A communication device/board that contains mostly fringe vocabulary
may include words such as paper, pencil, crayon, and glue. How many
messages can this student produce? This vocabulary set severely limits the
child to making one-word requests and labeling objects.
When programming an AAC device or creating a communication
board, it is important to find a balance between flexible core vocabulary
words and appropriate fringe vocabulary words. By meaningfully and
carefully selecting both core and fringe words for a device or board, parents
and SLPs open the door to strong communication skills.
Cannon, B. & Edmond, G (2009, April 14). A Few Good Words: Using Core Vocabulary to Support Nonverbal Students. The ASHA
Grether, S. (2011) Recognition and Response: Application for Augmentative Communication in Preschool Settings. Presented at
Annual Conference for the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association, San Diego.