Phonological Process Series: What is Backing?

[In this series, we explore the major phonological processes that children use in speech, as well as strategies for targeting them at home]

What are Phonological Processes? 

A phonological process is a pattern that young children adapt to simplify adult speech sounds. All children use these processes at some point in time while their speech and language skills are still developing because they don’t have to ability to coordinate the articulators -- lips, tongue, teeth, etc. -- for clear, “adult-like” speech. Due to this developmental process, children will simplify words in predictable ways until they develop the skills required to produce them clearly. A familiar example of this might be a 2-year-old child saying “wa-wa” for “water” or “nana” for “banana”. 


Today, we explore the process known as backing. This substitutive process involves articulating the sounds produced in the front of the mouth, such as T and D, in the back of the mouth instead. Typically, T and D are produced as K and G, respectively. If you've ever heard a child say "gog" for "dog," or "Kag! You're it!," you may have heard an example of backing in casual conversation.

Unlike some other phonological processes, backing is not considered a typical behavior at any age. While there are some who contend that backing may be typical until age 3, this process is generally considered to be indicative of a more severe phonological delay. As such, it's recommended that parents reach out to a speech therapist if they hear this process consistently in their child's speech.

In therapy, it's typical to target this pattern using a "minimal pairs" approach. In this strategy, children repeat two words that differ by only one sound, typically the target sound (for example, T or TALL) and the corresponding processed sound (K in this example, or the full word CALL). By repeating sets of minimal pairs words, children quickly learn to verbally and auditorily differentiate the two different sounds in question.

Auditory discrimination, or the ability to accurately distinguish sounds, can also be a useful skill to practice with minimal pairs. Asking children to determine if the sounds in the first or second word included a T or D sound is a way to coach careful listening that can lead to correct production.

Have more questions about backing or other phonological processes? Reach out to a Sidekick therapist or one of our offices today.

Paul Rice, M.S., CCC-SLP