1999 Conference Proceedings

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Susan Balandin
Centre for Developmental Disability Studies
PO Box 6
Ryde, NSW 1680, Australia

Bruce Baker
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Katya Hill
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

There is now a considerable amount of research related to varied issues of vocabulary selection for augmented communicators. In particular, core and fringe vocabularies have been the focus of this research, which has well established that both children and adults use a small core vocabulary and a large fringe vocabulary (Vanderheiden & Kelso, 1988) (Yorkston, et al., 1989). Core vocabularies carry little information but much meaning. They also provide a framework or add clarity and elegance to language. Core vocabularies also show a high degree of commonality across users.

On the other hand, fringe vocabularies are large, constantly updated with new words, highly individual, consist almost exclusively of content words (i.e., nouns, verbs and adjectives), and have a low degree of commonality across users. However, the knowledge of the clear distinction between core and fringe vocabulary and an understanding of their relative roles are not enough in themselves to ensure that augmented communicators have access to adequate vocabulary to meet their communication needs.

Core vocabularies need to be supplemented by fringe vocabularies appropriate to individual users (Nyberg, et al., 1994). Training has to be developed to show augmentative communication system operators how to optimize their core vocabularies to facilitate communication across all environments.

A recent study of professionals' ability to predict vocabulary for meal break conversations (Balandin & Iacono, in press-a) indicated that professionals were not adept at selecting the vocabulary most frequently used in this context. It is clear that having access to a wide vocabulary does not ensure that the augmented communicator can use language appropriately, nor is it practical to consult lists of thousands of words in an attempt to select a meaningful vocabulary for an individual.

Since the early 1990's vocabulary research has extended to include topics of conversation (Balandin & Iacono, in press-b; Marvin, et al., 1994; Stuart, et al., 1993) and generic phrases used in everyday speech -- core collocations (King, et al., 1995).

A knowledge of conversational topics and the importance of typical collocations or phrases may assist the augmented communicator to select an individualized vocabulary useful for conducting conversations, thus helping him or her join in and sustain social interactions more easily. The field of augmentative communication is questioning how best to collect vocabulary for consideration by the augmented communicator. It is now widely believed that it is important to consider a variety of sources and to guarantee that any vocabulary selected is socially valid. So where are we now in vocabulary research?

Research on the categorization of semantics relations as they occur naturally in one-to-one interactions (taxonomies of content) provides useful information when considering vocabulary selection for augmented communicators. When normal language learners are matched with language-disordered children by mean length of utterance (MLU), comparisons showed few differences in vocabulary acquisition and use (Bloom, 1970, Brown, 1973).

In addition, the comprehension of various semantic relations (agent-action, action-object) is not significantly different between normal and cognitively impaired children matched by MLU (Duchan & Erickson, 1973). Development of receptive and expressive vocabulary in children is related to quality features of dyadic interaction (Hart & Risley, 1995). This knowledge indicates the importance of providing people who rely on augmentative communication with random access both to core and fringe vocabularies to guarantee the capacity to engage in a wide variety of conversational situations.

Random access here is opposed to hierarchical access. Hierarchical access means navigating through various pages to find a particular core or fringe word. Random access implies a coded, simultaneously available seemless vocabulary organization on a single screen or overlay.

In a pilot study being conducted at the University of Pittsburgh on early dyadic interactions, findings support the notion of random access to core and fringe vocabulary (Hill & Dollaghan, in progress). Language samples obtained from three year olds engaged in a conversation with their parent or an examiner indicated children readily acknowledged topics of conversation introduced by adults. Initial review of the uptake vocabulary suggests strong use of a core vocabulary in order to comply with the initiated topic. Examples of uptake vocabulary utterances are as follows:

In addition, the adult was more likely to extend the topic by introducing new lexicon or fringe vocabulary into the conversation. Children appear to rely on adult modeling of new lexicon before using this fringe vocabulary himself or herself. Consequently, completing an operational or conversational sequence by the child was not dependent on use of fringe vocabulary, but strongly dependent on the use of a core vocabulary.


Balandin, S., & Iacono, T. (in press-a). A few well chosen words. Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

Balandin, S., & Iacono, T. (in press-b). The topics of meal break conversations. Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

King, J., Spoeneman, T., Stuart, S., & Beukelman, D. R. (1995). Small talk in adult conversations: Implications for AAC vocabulary selection. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 11(4), 260-264.

Bloom, L. (1970). Language Development: Form and Function in Emerging Grammars. Cambridge, MA, M.I.T., Press.

Brown, R. (1973). A First Language, the Early Stages. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Duchan, J. & Erickson, J.G. (1976). Normal and retarded childrenÕs understanding of semantic relations in different verbal contexts. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 19:767-777.

Hart, B. & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in Everyday Experience of Young American Children, Baltimore, MD, Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Hill, K., Dollaghan, C. (1998). Maintenance vocabulary in three year oldsÕ dyadic interactions: Implications for AAC Users. Research in progress. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Marvin, C. A. (1994). Cartalk! Conversational topics of preschool children en route home from preschool. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 25, 146-155.

Nyberg, E., Baker, B.R., Kushler, C., Higginbotham, J. Corpus Analysis and Vocabulary Selection for Word Prediction in a Multi-Modal System, Proceedings 6th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC), Maastricht, Netherlands, pp. 551-553, October, 1994.

Stuart, S., Vanderhoof, D., & Beukelman, D. R. (1993). Topic and vocabulary use patterns of elderly women. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 9(2), 95-118.

Yorkston, K. (1988). A Comparison of Standard and User Vocabulary Lists, Augmentative and Alternative Communication 4:189-210.

Vanderheiden, G.C. & Kelso, D.P. (1987). Comparative Analysis of Fixed Vocabulary Communication Acceleration Techniques, Augmentative and Alternative Communication: 196-206

Sue Balandin Ph.D
Senior Research Fellow
Centre of Developmental Disability Studies
Royal Rehabilitation Centre Sydney
P.O. Box 6, Ryde 2112 ,
Phone: + 61 2 9807 7062
Fax: + 61 2 9807 7053

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