When is Simplified Too Simple?

May 1st, 2017

“Push car.”
“More cookie?”
“Toy in box.”
“My turn ball.”
“Horsie run.”

The examples above are a type of simplified speech known as telegraphic input. It includes nouns and verbs, but deletes other parts of language such as articles (e.g., a, the) and word endings (e.g., -ing, -s, -ed). Some clinicians promote the use of telegraphic input, particularly for children who only use one or two words. Advocates for telegraphic speech argue that it is beneficial for several reasons:

1) It assists children who struggle with processing information accurately because they have a language delay.
2) It focuses children’s attention on specific parts of speech such as noun to verb relationships (e.g., “I jump”).
3) It creates spoken utterances that are easier for children to imitate, especially if they are only producing single words.

In this way, “telegraphic input may help to bridge the one-word and two-word stages of spoken language development for young children with language delays” (Venker and Stronach 2017).

“Push the car.”
“More cookies?”
“Put the toy in the box.”
“It’s my turn for the ball.”
“The horse is running.”

The examples above are types of grammatical simplified input. It includes shortened phrases that do not break grammatical rules. Shortened phrases typically include simple grammatical features such as articles (e.g., a, an, the) and word endings (e.g., -ed, -ing, -s). Grammatical simplified input is beneficial for several reasons:

1) It assists children’s ability to process language by anticipating upcoming words (e.g., a noun typically follows an article, (e.g., the girl, a dinosaur).
2) The use of grammatical features help children’s ability to learn new words by providing clues (e.g., “-ed” is used for an action that already happened).
3) Not using these grammatical features may negatively impact children’s abilities to accurately use correct grammatical features in their sentences, which is “further penalizing children who have already fallen behind their peers” (Venker and Stronach 2017).

Although there is limited research about telegraphic input versus grammatical simplified input, there is current research that “points to the benefits of using grammatical simplified input” (Venker and Stronach 2017).

A 2014 treatment study by Shelley Bredin-Oja and Mark Fey of the University of Kansas Medical Center found that “providing a telegraphic prompt to imitate does not offer any advantage [as opposed to using grammatical simplified prompting] as an intervention technique” (Venker and Stronach 2017). An observational, meta-analysis study in 2016 found that “more grammatically complex parent utterances were associated with more positive language outcomes in children with developmental delays, particularly those with ASD” (Venker and Stronach 2017).

Why does all this matter? The best way to promote accurate and more complex language use in your child is to model “grammatically correct” language yourself. This will not only benefit your child as he/she builds his/her language, but will assist him/her in understanding accurate grammatical features as he/she learns and grows.

By: Oceanside Therapy Group’s Speech/Language Department

Courtney E. Venker, PhD, CCC-SLP and Sheri T. Stronach, PhD, CCC-SLP. 2017. “When Is Simplified Too Simple?” ASHA Leader. Vol. 2. I’m No. 1. January 2017. 44-47.