Tag Archives: core vocabulary

Techcess introduce SCORE (UK) working with Core vocabularies.

basic vocab charts An event held at The Barnsley Hospital Education Centre was an interesting morning concerning the translation of a core vocabulary system developed by Professor Jens Boenisch and his team from the University of Cologne.  The use of core vocabularies on a series of personalised communication charts have been translated into English from the German originals and can be provided in a folder that offers a way of encouraging the growth of language and literacy skills. Some members of the Tawasol symbols team were lucky enough to meet Professor Boenisch in 2016 when they discussed the possible translation of the system into Arabic. The visit was reported in our blog with an image of the original communication folder

Low tech to high techTechcess with Bart Noe (Jabbla) have developed a way of working with these charts on speech generating devices that speed access to symbols and therefore the creation of phrases and sentences that are read aloud with speech synthesis.  The SCORE system has been built to work with Mind Express on Windows tablet AAC systems and with the present configuration users can choose to use Symbol Stix, PCS or Widgit Symbols. MindExpress is available as a demo for 60 days and SCORE will be available for 30 days.  The system is being sold for £228 as a folder and £220 as a vocabulary that works with MindExpress.

You may have noticed that colour coding has been used with the symbols.  In this case the a modified version of the Fitzgerald key colour system has been used to encourage correct sentence structure.

“Modified Fitzgerald Key

Blue: Adjectives
Green: Verbs
Yellow: Pronouns
Orange: Nouns
White: Conjunctions
Pink: Prepositions, social words
Purple: Questions
Brown: Adverbs
Red: Important function words, negation, emergency words
Grey: Determiners ” Praactical AAC . Another example of the code is shown below.

Fitzgerald colour key

The SCORE symbol layout system illustrates how important it is to aim for the smallest number of keystrokes that can be achieved to select a required word.  So high frequency words can be reached with one stroke, most are two strokes away and fringe words should not be more than four key strokes away.  When working in different languages (for bilingual situations) it is important to not only have the core words within easy reach, but to also be aware of word placement within phrases and sentences with correct use of grammar.  This means that charts may have parts of speech appearing in different places depending on the language being used.

The SCORE vocabulary allows for the use of natural language, with a full range of correct grammar,  to create sentences with both symbols and alphabetical options so suits both children and adults.  Users can adapt charts with additional symbols and layouts, but it is important to maintain consistent word/symbol positioning for individual languages, so that predictable motor patterns can be developed to aid automaticity and speed communication.



News from the ISAAC conference and recent work

ISAAC film festival posterThe ISAAC 2016 conference in Toronto has seen the launch of our film about Mohammed and his use of the Tawasol symbols for praying. The importance of personalisation and localisation of communication charts to suit user needs is illustrated.  The setting of the film takes you to Qatar and straight into a Doha home where one can see the difference listening to participants in this sort of a project can make.

Share and Believe, A Symbolic Journey

Mohammed using his Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) aid to express his feelings about the Tawasol symbols and what he has achieved. We would like to say thank you for his support and his family whilst we have been working to develop freely available symbols that can be used alongside any other symbol sets but take into account Gulf and other Arabic cultural, religious and social settings. The team have been working in collaboration with AAC users, families, teachers and professionals in Doha, Qatar and hope to offer many more symbols in the future that will also help those with literacy and language skill difficulties as well as for use in signage etc.


The team feel this has been one of the most important outcomes of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary – a freely available set of symbols that can work with any other symbol set to support Arabic AAC users, those with literacy skill difficulties and for use in the local environment.  We have worked hard with local participants to achieve a mix of Qatari and Arabic dress, religious culture and take into account social etiquette and sensitivities.  Much more has to be done and we are working hard to increase the vocabulary in the coming months.

At the conference we were lucky enough to have two papers accepted and here are the PowerPoints that went with the presentations. The ISAAC Conference program provides links to the abstracts
Core Vocabularies: Same or different for Bilingual Language Learning and Literacy Skill building with Symbols?

Developing an Arabic Symbol Dictionary for AAC users: Bridging the Cultural, Social and Linguistic Gap.

Finally in the last few weeks we have been working with CommuniKate and Joe Reddington to add all our symbols to two general communication charts in English and Arabic which can be personalised as the charts are built using PowerPoint slides.  The system has been developed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and we are very grateful for the support Joe and Kate have given us with the project.

The English test sample chart is available and is best seen using the Firefox browser, but here is a screen grab of the Arabic version that is still being worked on as we want it to work with text to speech in the same way as the English version.  When you select a symbol the word appears in the window and the text to speech reads it out. At present the English version is using eSpeak but we need to find a good Arabic voice and the correct sentence construction with the appropriate character word changes as the symbols are selected.

Arabic Communication chart

More Vocabulary lists and papers for conferences

Highland cowThe last two months have seen some members of the team taking time out, one member heading off to carry out research at MIT and two members introduced us to their new daughters! Other members of the team have been on holiday, not all to sunny climes!

However the work has continued and from a research perspective we have been looking at a collection of Arabic core vocabularies to analyse the differences between our own Doha AAC lists and other lists of frequently used words on the web, in conversational situations and for language learning.

The Doha Arabic AAC lists are made up of a collection of the most commonly used words as collated by special needs teachers, therapists (e.g. speech therapists and occupational therapists) and parents. These lists also include the referents for symbols from AAC user workbooks, AAC devices, therapist progress notes of symbols worked on in therapy, and commonly used symbol signage around special needs centres and facilities.

The Arabic most frequently used words have come from individuals’ comments on the Aljazeera websites which were often posted in colloquial Arabic and collected by Dr Wajdi Zaghouani plus another list of words collected in lectures, the KELLY Project (Keywords for Language Learning for young and adults alike) and Buckwalter and Parkinson’s Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners.

There were also several lists based on words needed to encourage literacy skills such as the Supreme Education Council standards (Grade 1, 2, 3 and kindergarten, Ahmad Oweini and Katia Hazoury’s list of Sight words based on a collection of words gathered from popular reading books in Lebanon (grades K to 3)

On the English side the word lists have come from the research collected early on in the project linked to the work of Hill and Romich, Blandin and Iacono, Benajee et al, Van Tatenhove and Beukelman et al. Some frequency lists are based on the General Core Vocabulary (GCV) measure.

The analysis of these lists has been written up in a paper for the 6th Workshop on Speech and Language Processing for Assistive Technologies in Dresden as part of a larger Interspeech conference and will be published after the event in November2015. In essence we took our Doha lists and compared them to the other collections to see whether there were any major differences and which words we also needed to include in our lists to develop symbols that would aid communication and literacy skills. We not only found that there were several differences in the vocabularies but also in comparison to the English lists, there were many more nouns.

In English Boenish and Soto state that the use of nouns goes from 7% in the top 100 words to 20% in the top 300 whereas in MSA the corresponding frequency levels are 26% and 45% according Buckwalter and Parkinsons’ lists. When looking at the English AAC user list this appears to be true but when looking at the Doha AAC lists there are many more nouns and one has to wonder whether this is due to the make up of the Arabic language or that it is much easier to develop symbols related to concrete objects rather than abstract feelings, concepts or happenings!

Word cloud made with WordItOut

More analysis will need to be done in the coming months, but in the meantime the voting sessions continue with the acceptance of symbols and this process was explained in another poster for the ASSETS 2015 conference. The support for literacy skills for Arabic AAC users will be the topic for a poster at Communication Matters in UK and a paper on our participatory approach to the development of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary will be presented at AAATE 2015 also in the first week of September, 2015.


W. Zaghouani, “Critical Survey of the Freely Available Arabic Corpora,” In the Proceedings of the International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC’2014), OSACT Workshop. Rejkavik, Iceland, 26-31 May 2014.

A. Kilgarriff, F. Charalabopoulou, M. Gavrilidou, J. B. Johannessen, S. Khalil, S. J. Kokkinakis and Volodina, E. “Corpus-based vocabulary lists for language learners for nine languages,” Language Resources and Evaluation, 1-43 2013.

W. Zaghouani, B. Mohit, N. Habash, O.Obeid, N. Tomeh, and K. Oflazer. “Large-scale Arabic Error Annotation: Guidelines and Framework,” In the Proceedings of the International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC’2014). Rejkavik, Iceland, 26-31 May 2014.

Oweini and K. Hazoury, “Towards a list of Awards a Sight Word List in Arabic,” International Review of Education, 56 (4), 457-478 2010.

K. Hill, and B. Romich, 100 Frequently Used Core Words. Accessed May 2015 https://aaclanguagelab.com/files/100highfrequencycorewords2.pdf

K. Hill, and B. Romich, “A summary measure clinical report for characterizing AAC performance,” Proceedings of the RESNA ’01 Annual Conference, Reno, NV. pp 55-57. 2001.

J. Boenisch and G. Soto, “The Oral Core Vocabulary of Typically Developing English-Speaking School-Aged Children,” Implications for AAC Practice. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, pp.77–84. 2015.

Balandin and T. Iacono, “A few well-chosen words,” Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 14(September), 147–161 1998.

Banajee, C. Dicarlo, and S. Buras Stricklin, “Core Vocabulary Determination for Toddlers,” Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19(2), 67–73. 2003.

Beukelman, D. R., Yorkston, K. M., Poblete, M., & Naranjo, C. (1984). Frequency of Word Occurbence in Communication Samples Produced by Adult Communication Aid Users. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 49(4), 360-367.

T. Buckwalter and D. Parkinson, “A frequency dictionary of Arabic: Core vocabulary for learners,” Routledge. 2014.

G. M. Van Tatenhove, “Building Language Competence With Students Using AAC Devices: Six Challenges,” Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 18(2), 38–47 2009.

P. Hatch, L. Geist, and K. Erickson, “Teaching Core Vocabulary Words and Symbols to Students with Complex Communication Needs,” Presented at Assistive Technology Industry Association, 2015. Retrieved 19/2/2015 fromhttp://www.med.unc.edu/ahs/clds/files/conference-hand-outs/atia_2015.pdf (Accessed 14 June 2015).

Voting on lexical concepts for the classroom and for communication.

This report comes thanks to Amatullah Kadous

symbol comparison

Comparing ARASAAC symbols on left to Arabic Symbol Dictionary versions.

On May 12th, 2015 the Mada Assistive technology Center hosted the first voting session for the second batch of symbols. The session was attended by 10 voters, including 3 Mada staff members, 3 speech therapists from the Child Development Centre in West Bay, 3 staff members from Shafallah special needs school and the Head of the Speech Therapy Department at Qatar Academy.



Via the online symbol management “quick vote system”, participants voted on 66 symbols that had been developed or adapted from the ARASAAC symbol such as  “drive” or “Allah” (God).

There was a debate as to the importance of words used in the classroom with older students and those words or phrases needed for daily communication.   Some felt that there should be a mix at this stage despite the fact that the words had been provided by schools.  Dr. Imad Deeb a speech therapist specializing in developing Arabic literacy programs for people with special needs made the comment that “there are 3 different levels of vocabulary: General academic vocabulary, Specific academic vocabulary and the common vocabulary; (some of) the words presented today are academic and from the MSA (from texts) and the MSA doesn’t represent any dialect, nobody uses these words to communicate, the vocabulary presented today is so different than the level of a child with disability. The words are abstract and complex, they don’t match the needs of our children”

collective response manners
An example of this were the words  “collective response” and “manners”  (translated from the Arabic list)  provided by a school covering a wide age range (K-12).  Many voters said that they had never used such a symbol with the AAC users they were supporting, one voter stating, “It’s a very abstract word, very difficult to explain it to a child, I’ve worked with children for more than 20 years, I’ve never used this word, why is it in your list?”  But if the Arabic had been adapted  to represent ‘everyone answer’ and ‘please be good’  would there have been a different reaction.

“Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning! It is indeed by so doing that we can say the letter kills and the spirit gives life.” Voltaire

It was time to re-evaluate the methods used to collect the core vocabularies. It was decided that different lists may have to be targeted at different voters in the AAC forum whilst prioritising the core communication vocabularies.  For example 3 lists from a specific special needs school in Qatar had come from the Arabic department who had come together and created the vocabulary based on words commonly used in text books and concepts from Islamic Studies – these were the lists that contained words such as collective response, manners, memorise and even monotheism.  All the other lists were based on symbols used in conversation or taken directly from classrooms including visual timetables, communication boards, grids, what speech therapists working with AAC users perceived as the most commonly used symbols and symbols used for signage around the special needs school.  By keeping the 3 curriculum based lists separate the final core vocabulary list reflected a communication based vocabulary and any more complex words or word phrases would be kept for a separate higher level literacy based  vocabulary.

The team also discussed the possibility of arranging for a group of users, parents and professionals supporting AAC users to vote on the final core vocabulary; to add and remove words they believed should or shouldn’t be in place.  In this way there would be a local consensus that the collected data was valid based on usage.   This was actually a suggestion that originally came from one of the voters “you have to set your proper list of vocabulary and invite us to vote on the list before starting to create new symbols” !  It highlights  the value of using a participatory approach and including users and their supporters in the decision making processes.

There was also another discussion about the clothing type to be used throughout the Arabic Symbol dictionary i.e. traditional Qatari clothing (black dress and hijab for women and white dress and headpiece for men) or clothing more suitable for the broader Arab region (coloured clothing with hijab for women). One speech therapist explained how her Egyptian student would not be able to identify with the character in our symbol that was wearing Qatari clothing. She also questioned what the scenario would be like for a Qatari AAC user who travelled abroad. Her suggestion was that we use stick figures. The team had already discussed this issue at the beginning of the symbol designing process, and decided that this problem needed to be put  to those who would be using the symbols most. A symbol survey was created which 50 therapists, parents and special needs teachers completed regarding their preference for clothing type (Qatari vs Arab clothing) and drawing type (stick figures vs full drawing of male and female characters). The results noted in the previous blog entry showed a preference for clothing that represented the broader Arab region and full drawing depictions as opposed to stick figures.

The team has realized how passionate everyone is for their opinions to be heard as all have valid rationales for their preferences. In order for the dictionary to be useful and for it to be used, it is essential to cater for the broadest range of users and supporters possible.  it has been decided to incorporate characters with Qatari clothing in the situation where there are more than one character but leaving the majority of characters in Arab clothing. Furthermore, it will be possible to make as many stick figure options available via the ARASAAC symbol lists as well as those developed for a research project by one of the team members as part of her Master’s degree from the University of St. Joseph in Lebanon.


Designs for Symbols and Arabic Core vocabulary.

Over the past month a further 20 therapists with 13 Arabic speakers voted on the first batch of symbols with Tullah reporting that there was a preference for colour versions of male and female images for verbs rather than stick figures  (3 voted for stick figures and 17 for full image with colours). Tullah also felt that gender might play a role in the symbol choices,  as it appeared that the male attendees were more willing to accept stick figures in black and white.  This area needs more research!   Does the gender of the therapist impact on the choice of symbol they may make for their AAC users?  

When it came to discussing the clothing concerns there was a general consensus that there should be a range of dress with options for traditional styles as well as westerner clothing.  The final dictionary will provide access to all the ARASAAC symbols as well as the specially designed ones for Arabic culture so it is hoped that there will be sufficient choice.

Survey stick figure with Arabic modificationsBecause there have been some concerns about the way action symbols for verbs are portrayed and the type of clothing needed across all the symbols it was decided that we needed to increase the number of people involved in making these decisions so a survey is being sent out across several organisations with AAC users in the hope that we receive clear direction.

The  results from this survey and the final votes for Batch 1 of the newly designed symbols will be discussed in the next blog.   In the meantime a new collection of Arabic words lists have been gathered from the Awsaj Academy teachers, parents and speech therapists working with AAC users.


Core Vocabulary

During the year the team have kept up the discussion about core Arabic vocabularies.   According to the PrAActical Blog (author Carole Zangari) the recent ATIA 2015  conference

“served as validation that core vocabulary is now a widely accepted practice in supporting language development with AAC learners. Presentation after presentation discussed the rationale, research support, and strategies for implementation.”

Early on it was the aim to have a localised core vocabulary used by AAC users in Doha with a set of words that were based around a symbol vocabulary collected from therapists, teachers and parents in specialist schools and clinics.  The original list was largely based on an English core vocabulary taken from the  100 frequently used core words provided by Prentke Romich Company (PRC),  with a considerable number of fringe words – mainly nouns as can be seen from the most frequently used ones.

11 most commonly used words









Now an Arabic word list has been developed, built up thanks to collaboration with 8 Doha based institutions.   Description of data origins for Core vocab.  The AAC user lists contain around 1000 words and the initial analysis has shown an interesting set of frequently used Arabic words which still need more accurate analysis and checks against other lists.  The top 20 translated into English (with frequency in brackets) are at the moment:

I (16), car (13), ball (12), on (11), banana (11), to (10), he went (10), work (10), house (9), he sat (9), bicycle (9). clock/watch (9), in (9), chair (9), I want (8), aeroplane (8), pen (8), was (8), he played (8), flower / rose (8)

Arabic top 20 words



signing young in Arabic

Signing young in Arabic (taken from ‘ndictative dictionary’ provided by The Qatar Society for Rehabilitation of Special Needs)

We also have access to a list of words collected by the Qatar Society for Rehabilitation of Special Needs for those who are deaf or have hearing impairments and are using sign language in Qatar and we are beginning to collect words used when teaching Arabic to children and those wishing to speak Arabic as a second language.




It is felt that these three collections should be representative of the types of vocabulary needed as a basis for the dictionary.  The intention is to analyse the collections looking for similarities in the words used between the lists, frequency of use and comparisons with the English core vocabularies used at the start of the project.


Zangari, C. (2012).Helping the general education team support students who use AAC. Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 21:82;91. (Accessed 22nd February, 2015 http://www.minspeak.com/students/documents/%20Zangari.pdf)

VanTatenhove, Gail M. (2013) Core Vocabulary with Emergent & Context-Dependent Communicators in Special Education Classrooms (Accessed 22nd February, 2015  http://www.vantatenhove.com/files/handouts/CoreVocabWithECDCommunicators.pdf )

VanTatenhove, Gail M. (2007 Normal Language Development, Generative Language & AAC (Accessed 22nd February, 2015 http://www.vantatenhove.com/files/papers/LangDevelopmentIntervention/NormalLanguage&AAC.pdf )

Updates to Symbol Manager, core and fringe vocabularies in Arabic and symbol voting.

Symbol ManagerHaving discussed changes to the Symbol Manager over the last month the work has been completed with categories being divided into small lists and alphabetic versions of the sub-categories used by ARASAAC.  Those not needed for the Arabic Symbol Dictionary have been hidden and others have been added – mainly related to food complement some of the categories the therapists have been using with Boardmaker.


There is now a Localisation section of the Symbol Manager that allows all the elements of the site to be translated from English to Arabic with changes that can be made at any time should the need arise.

Localisation Arabic

There have been discussions about adding definitions for each lexical entry as it was clear that the WordNet entries in English needed some changes to suit the audience of AAC symbol users and that an Arabic dictionary was also needed. A request was made to the Almaany Dictionary  and they have kindly offered collaboration which will be incredibly helpful.

Recent visits to Awsaj Academy have resulted in more vocabulary lists being provided by the Arabic department, for which we are incredibly grateful as this has allowed us to compare the use of various parts of speech in the lists provided by English teachers and those teaching in Arabic when using symbol communication.  But we need to be wary of the results as they come from a wide range of ages and this last list comes from a group of more able children compared to those in the earlier samples.   However, all the centres and schools need core and fringe Arabic vocabularies to provide a base for the most commonly used symbols. So frequency of use will be of paramount importance when making the choices of which symbols to adapt to suit the culture, environment, language and personal requirements.


Number of words

Parts of Speech

12% 54 adjectives
2% 7 adverbs
3% 15 interjections
48% 209 nouns
1% 5 prepositions
1% 6 pronouns
1% 5 question words
32% 138 verbs
Total 439

A VOIP meeting with the ARASAAC team discussed the collaboration on the adaptation of symbols. They have kindly agreed to give us some guidance as to how they develop their symbols and we will send them our list of symbol files that need to be added to the database to suit the needs of users in Doha and the Arabic culture, language and environment.  Sharing .svg files will help with the development and ARASAAC are changing their website and database in the coming months.

google plus symbolsOne of the ways we have been working on symbols that has greatly speeded up interaction between team members has been the use of Google+ with images being uploaded and our votes and comments being monitored by Dana before she finally uploads the images to the Symbol Manager for voting by the AAC Forum.


On going research into issues around voting as to the iconicity of symbols will  confirm our decisions around how the AAC Forum can vote on the final draft versions of the symbols.  At present we have several options as illustrated in the slides below that are available on SlideShare.


Bloomberg, K., Karlan, G. R., Llloyd, L. L.: The comparative translucency of initial lexical items represented in five graphic symbol systems and sets. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol. 33 (1990), 717-725

Evans D, Bowick L, Johnson M, Blenkhorn P (2006) Using iconicity to evaluate symbol use. In: Proceedings of the 10th international conference on computers helping people. Linz, Austria, pp 874–881
Fuller, D. R.: Initial study into the effects of translucency and complexity on the learning of Blissymbols by children and adults with normal cognitive abilities. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 7, (1997), 30-39

Haupt, L., Alant, E.: The iconicity of picture communication symbols for rural Zulu children. South African Journal of Communication Disorders, Vol. 49 (2003), 40-49

Huer, M. B.: Examining perceptions of graphic symbols across cultures: preliminary study of the impact of culture/ethnicity. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 16 (2000), 180-185

Mizuko, M.: Transparency and ease of learning of symbols represented by Blissymbols, PCS and Picsysms. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 3 (1987), 129-136

Musselwhite, C. R., Ruscello, D. M.: Transparency of three communication symbol systems. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Vol. 27, (1984), 436-443

Communication Matters Conference 2014

Chris Abbott at the poster

Chris Abbott discussing the poster

Communication Matters 2014 was a really interesting conference with many topics related to the work on the Arabic Symbol Dictionary and a chance to test some of our ideas related to phonic awareness and the lexical entries. There was also time to catch up with many of the experts in the field as can be seen from the list of presentations.

In most talks there was an assurance that the slides presented would be available on the Communication Matters website in the coming weeks.

Chris Abbott, as an Advisory Group member, took time out to discuss the poster as did Alasdair King from ClaroSoftware and many others who were passing.   I learnt more from the Barnsley Assistive Technology team and Marion Stanton – both giving very interesting talks.

links to development skillsAndrea Kirton and Simon Judge talked about their Phonic Screen ideas for “Using Phonemes to Construct Utterances for Aided Communication”. This was mentioned in the previous blog but here you can see from one of their slides that they see presenting phonemes with speech output as supporting many essential developmental skills.

Mindexpress phonics

Mindexpress with phonics

There is a useful booklet developed by Lancashire Primary Literacy team (download PDF) that highlights the complexities of gaining phonemic awareness in English and this was also debated in Marion Stanton’s very thought provoking presentation.  She stressed the need to think about presenting text instead of symbols in particular where there were abstract words that were often seen with totally unrelated images for the word such as ‘equals’ for ‘is’ or ‘are’.   Marion said input and output must achieve “Time, energy and effort efficiency”.  She discussed the idea of using  phonics on Grid 2 as a bridge to synthetic phonics with one student who is now taking A’levels.   This was also shown by TechCess in Mindexpress 4.

grid3Grid 3 developed by Sensory Software was also demonstrated by Barney Hawes with its new Windows 8 look that complements the free download of Grid Player   Grid 3 allows for editing on a tablet or other touch screen device and has the Microsoft Office type ribbon – it also possible remotely edit and update grids.


Jennifer Marden from Assistiveware who develop Prologquo2Go gave a helpful presentation which she has kindly shared called “Teaching with Core Words” (Download PDF) – she listed a number of references that can be found below.

Finally whilst following tweets from the Ace Centre I learnt about a very useful clinical guidance document from the Australian Speech Pathologists  which covers some of the ethical issues we have discussed such as consent forms.



Balandin, S., & Iacono, T. (1998). A few well-chosen words. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 14(September), 147–161.!

Balandin, S., & Iacono, T. (1999). Crews, Wusses, and Whoppas: Core and Fringe Vocabularies of Australian Meal-Break Conversations in
the Workplace. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 15(June), 95–109.!

Banajee, M., Dicarlo, C., & Buras Stricklin, S. (2003). Core Vocabulary Determination for Toddlers. Augmentative and Alternative
Communication, 19(2), 67–73.!

Beukelman, D., Jones, R., & Rowan, M. (1989). Frequency of word usage by nondisabled peers in integrated preschool classrooms.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 5(4), 243–248.!
❖ Beukelman, D. R., Yorkston, K., Poblete, M., & Naranjo, C. (1984). Frequency of Word Occurrence in Communication Samples Produced
by Adult Communication Aid Users. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 49(November), 360–367.!

Clendon, S., & Erickson, K. (2008). The vocabulary of beginning writers: implications for children with complex communication needs.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 24(4), 281–93.!

Fried-Oken, M., & More, L. (1992). An initial vocabulary for nonspeaking preschool children based on developmental and environmental
language sources. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 8(March).!

Lahey, M., & Bloom, L. (1975). Planning a First Lexicon: Which Words to Teach First. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 340–351.!

Marvin, C., Beukelman, D. R., & Bilyeu, D. (1994). Vocabulary-Use Patterns in Preschool Children: Effects of Context and Time Sampling.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 10(December), 224–236.!

Van Tatenhove, G. M. (2009). Building Language Competence With Students Using AAC Devices: Six Challenges. Perspectives on
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 18(2), 38–47.!

Yorkston, K., Dowden, P., Honsinger, M., Marriner, N., & Smith, K. (1988). A comparison of standard and user vocabulary lists.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 4(4), 189–210.!

Yorkston, K. M., Beukelman, D. R., Smith, K., & Tice, R. (1990). Extended communication samples of augmented communicators. II:
Analysis of multiword sequences. The Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 55(2), 225–30.!

Yorkston, K. M., Smith, K., & Beukelman, D. (1990). Extended communication samples of augmented communicators. I: A comparison of
individualized versus standard single-word vocabularies. The Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 55(2), 217–24.


Speech Pathology Australia (2012). Augmentative and Alternative Communication Clinical
Guideline. Melbourne: Speech Pathology Australia. Accessed 22/09/2014  http://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/library/Clinical_Guidelines/24072012%20FINAL%20Augmentative%20and%20Alternative%20Communication%20Cl.pdf 

Exploring the core and fringe words from Doha data

11 most commonly used wordsOver the past month Amatullah Kadous has been visiting specialist centres across Doha gathering word lists from speech and language therapists and specialist teachers working with AAC users.

These lists have come from young children and adults using PCS symbols in English and the top 11 used on at least 10 communication boards/books or devices can be seen in the graph above.   The lists have provided us with our first insight into the types of vocabulary used and the stages reached by individuals in their generation of language. The discussion around core vocabularies remains vital if we are to develop a dictionary that allows users to make the greatest use of clearly understandable simple and multi-functional words represented by symbols that allows for generative language (Cannon & Edmond, 2009) in both Arabic and English.  It can be seen that many of the words above could be classed as ‘fringe’ words that are specific to a certain situation or individual – vital to aid meaning to phrases and sentences but not the linking words discussed in previous blogs.

A list of 100 frequently used core words provided by Prentke Romich Company (PRC) gathered from a group of resources (Banajee et al, 2003; Beukelman et al, 1984; Brown, 1973; Marvin et al 1994; Van Tatenhove, 2005 & 2009; Dolch, 1948; LAMP, 2009) has provided the team with an English core vocabulary but we still need to collect an Arabic list.

It should be noted that out of the 1186 unique English words and multiwords (some short phrases such as ‘where is Peter?) collected in Doha 70 match the PRC core words. The most frequently used 50 words found on at least six communication boards/books and devices are listed below. The number in brackets denotes the number of individuals using the word or multiword.

ball (16), car (16), eat (16), banana (13), apple (12), chair (11), juice (11), shoes (11), flower (10), spoon (10), toilet (10), cup (9), green (9), play (9), table (9), drink (8), finished (8), grapes (8), orange (8), stop (8), yellow (8), bed (7), bubbles (7), bus (7), cat (7), comb (7), duck (7), hall break (7), I (7), listen (7), pen (7), phone (7), red (7), scissors (7), sleep (7), watch (7), water (7), all done (6), bird (6), clock (6), dog (6), door (6), eating (6), fork (6), go (6), horse (6), look (6), nose (6), rabbit (6), shirt (6).

The PRC core words, along with the most frequently used words taken from the Doha lists have been selectively filtered using the symbol manager system to provide the team with a collection of symbols from which to make choices.  At present most AAC users are being presented with PCS symbols and a few have seen Widgit ones.  The other lists being used as comparisons are Sclera and ARASAAC.


Banajee, M., DiCarlo, C. & Stricklin, S. (2003). Core Vocabulary Determination for Toddlers. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 19, 67-73.

Beukelman, D., Yorkston, K. & Naranjo, C. (1984). 500 most Frequently Occurring Words Produced by Five Adult AAC Users, Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 49, 36.

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

Cannon, B. & Edmond, G. (2009, April 14). A Few Good Words : Using Core Vocabulary to Support Nonverbal Students. The ASHA Leader. Web page accessed May 2014 http://www.asha.org/Publications/leader/2009/090414/f090414c.htm

Dolch, E.W. (1948). Problems inreading. Champaign IL: Garrard

Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP). (2009). Word List.Available: http://www.aacandautism.com/lamp. Last accessed 31st May 2014.

Marvin, C., Beukelman, D. & Bilyeu, D (1994). Frequently Occurring Home and School Words from Vocabulary-Use Patterns in Preschool Children: Effects of Context and Time Sampling, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 10.

Van Tatenhove, G. (2005). Normal Language Development, Generative Language & AAC. revised October 2007 http://www.vantatenhove.com/files/NLDAAC.pdf

Van Tatenhove, G. (2009). The Pixon Project Kit. Wooster, OH: Prentke Romich Company.

Dolch Sight Words. See http://www.dolchsightwords.org/

Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP). See www.AACandAutism.com

Debating multiword phrases and core vocabularies

“Several major transitions in language use take place during the first 5 years of life. Each transition allows the child to move to a higher level of complexity of expression and to accomplish communicative goals more flexibly and precisely than was done at the previous level. At least three of these transitions appear to be modulated to some degree by speech. In the first transition, prelinguistic to early linguistic communication, babbling provides the infant with a prelinguistic form of vocal behavior that is in many ways analogous to language.A second transition takes place in the movement from single words to multiword combinations. In the process of this transition, word order becomes a means by which children convey semantic role information, and transitional forms such as successive one-word utterances help to facilitate the child’s leap from single-word speech to multiword sentences. “(Paul, 1997) 

We are aiming to build a dictionary database in order to collect the initial core vocabularies in Arabic and English to help us decide which symbol sets we use and how much work there will be when it comes to adapting them for localisation in Qatar.    Once we have made that decision we can add all the symbols from the set or sets if they have been produced with a Creative Commons licence, providing the right attributes.   Finally the aim is to start voting on how acceptable each symbol is in term of language and culture  as well as:

  • translucency (How appropriate is a proposed symbol for  a suggested meaning?) (Bloomberg et al. 1990),
  • guessability (Can subjects guess the intended meaning of a symbol?) (Hanson & Hartzema 1995, Dowse & Ehlers 2001,2003), and
  • iconicity (How distinctive are the symbols?) (Haupt & Alant 2003).

whilst beginning the adaptation process for both core and fringe vocabularies.

We know when building the dictionary  that encourages dialogue that it is the verbs/doing words that often provide the main part of early conversation with question words such as What? Where? etc rather than just the user specific nouns.  So it is important to think how the symbols will develop when it comes to multiword expressions (MWEs) as described in Multiword Expressions a Pain in the Neck for NLP.

For instance – how many symbols should we add for a core vocabulary when we add the verb  ‘put’ –  should this word be linked with symbols for ‘put on’ , ‘put off’, put under, put over, put out?  ‘Put’ is found in the English core vocabulary but are all those phrases?   Sometimes there are over 16 symbols for one verb in the present tense.

put sample symbols

Picto-Selector showing some ARASAAC and Sclera symbols for multiword phrases with ‘put’

It also happens in Arabic, as has been discovered by Amatullah when collecting data for the core vocabularies …

While I was taking down some word lists I noticed that ‘play’ was a common word with one group and then with another group they were commonly using these images (each one separate, and each it’s own picture) for ‘play’, e.g. ‘play with the ball’, ‘play on the bike’, ‘play with the toys’.


The debate seems to be swaying in favour of having all options but where a “word occurs in our core vocabulary then we make a generic symbol for it so it can be combined with other symbols to make phrases UNLESS there is a commonly used phrase which falls in our core vocab. In this case we have one picture to represent the phrase. ”  Amatullah

If this is the case when we select the symbols we will need to allow for the fact that many include a noun  from the fringe vocabulary as part of the image, so we have ‘see’ television, or ‘look at’ and the symbol shows a man looking at the television and the symbol is categorised under action verbs as well as nouns and part of the home environment. 

Multiword expressions appear in all languages and if one is considering Natural Language Processing technologies as a way of supporting access to symbols for conversational and written communication strategies then according to Paul (1997) there may be problems to overcome related to ‘overgeneration,  idiomaticity, flexibility and lexical proliferation.’


Battle, D. E., ( 2012) Ed  Communication disorders in multicultural and international populations; 2012 Pub by Mosby, an imprint of Elsevier Inc.

Bloomberg K, Karlan GR, Lloyd LL (1990): The comparative translucency of initial lexical items represented by five graphic symbol systems and sets, Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 33, 717–25.

Dowse R, Ehlers MS (2001): The evaluation of pharmaceutical pictograms in a low literate South African population, Patient Education and Counseling 45, 87–99.

Dowse R, Ehlers MS (2003): The influence of education on the interpretation of pharmaceutical pictograms for communicating medicine instructions, International Journal of Pharmacy Practice 11, 11–18.

Hanson EC, Hartzema A (1995): Evaluating pictograms as an aid for counseling elderly and low-literate patients, Journal of Pharmaceutical Marketing and Management 9(3), 41–54.

Haupt E, Alant E (2003): The iconicity of picture communication symbols for rural Zulu children, South African Journal of Communication Disorders 48, 45–54

Ivan, A., Cicling-, C., & It, S. (2002). This document is downloaded from DR-NTU , Nanyang Technological Author ( s ) and Intelligent Text Processing : Third International Conference : CICLing-2002 , Lecture Notes in Computer publication by Proceedings of Computational Linguistics and Intelligence.

Netzer, Y. (2006). Semantic Authoring for Blissymbols Augmented Communication Using Multilingual Text Generation Semantic Authoring for Blissymbols Augmented Communication Using Multilingual Text Generation, (November).

Paul, R. (1997). Facilitating transitions in language development for children using AAC. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 13(3), 141–148. doi:10.1080/07434619712331277958

Tatenhove, G. M. Van. (2007). Normal Language Development , Generative Language & AAC, (October), 1–11.