262 – Children’s acquisition of Setswana (Setlhaping and Sekwena) phonology

Presentation - ECV2022-262

Children’s acquisition of Setswana (Setlhaping and Sekwena) phonology

Olebeng Mahura, Charles Sturt University, Australia (omahura@csu.edu.ac.za )
Michelle Pascoe, University of Cape Town, South Africa (michelle.pascoe@uct.ac.za )
Heather Brookes, Stellenbosch University, South Africa (heatherbrookes@sun.ac.za )

Background: Setswana is one of South Africa’s officially recognised languages and the national language of Botswana. While Setswana is spoken by a large population in southern Africa, data on typical speech development in this language is limited. This often results in many speech-language therapists (SLTs) using English norms and assessments, making accurate identification of speech sound disorders (SSD) challenging.

Aim: This study describes the phonological development of Setswana in children aged 2;0–6;5 years. The study consisted of two phases: the first phase focused on establishing the reliability and validity of a preliminary assessment tool to improve its usability in clinical practice, while the second phase described the acquisition of Setswana vowels, consonants, phonotactic structures, and lexical tone. Phonological processes were described, and data on the occurrence of SSDs in Setswana-speaking children was obtained.

Method: The study used a cross-sectional design and included 81 children acquiring two varieties of Setswana, namely Setlhaping (n = 65) and Sekwena (n = 16). The assessment tool used for data collection consisted of culturally appropriate hand-drawn illustrations.

Results: Most Setswana consonants are acquired by 2;6 years, and the accuracy of vowels, consonants and phonotactic structures increases with age. Syllable structures with rounding were challenging for the youngest Setswana speakers and the round alveolar trill /rʷ/ was noted to develop beyond 6;5 years. Children acquiring Setswana use lexical tone accurately from an early age. Younger children (2;0–3;11) presented with the most phonological processes. These included deletion syllables in multisyllabic words, assimilation, and simplification of CʷV syllables. No differences in phonological development between the two variants studied were noted. Moreover, the speech of multilingual children was comparable to monolingual children.

Conclusions: Information from this study contributes knowledge on typical acquisition of Setswana phonology and characteristics of SSDs in this population. This is beneficial in helping SLTs better identify SSDs in Setswana, thereby decreasing the number of children who may be misdiagnosed because of a lack of information on speech development in Setswana. Additionally, early identification of children with SSDs will allow for timely intervention, and prevent associated risks such as poor literacy outcomes.

Implications for children and families: Children acquire most Setswana speech sounds by 2;6 years. This information will allow you to understand your child’s speech development.

Implications for practitioners: Most Setswana speech sounds are developed by 2;6 years, and the developmental trajectory is likely the same in the varieties spoken.  

Key words: wellbeing, communication, education, qualitative methods, Setswana

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

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