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Making Sense of Core and Fringe Vocabulary

Speech Language Therapy Core Board for Nonverbal Child
Speech Language Therapy Core Board for Nonverbal Child

Having access to core and fringe vocabulary is essential for effective communication. If your child is using any form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), it is likely that you have heard the term “core vocabulary” before.

Core vocabulary words are the most commonly used words, which make up approximately 80% of what we say (Beukelman, & Mirenda, 2013). Some examples of core vocabulary words are: I, you, want, work, do, same, some, that, in etc. Core vocabulary words tend to be very “general”, and can be used in a variety of situations. Take for example the word “in”, you could say some of the following “get in”, “it is in”, “let’s go in”, “put some in”, “don’t go in”, “stay in the lines” and many more. Because core vocabulary words can be used across many different environments, and they make up roughly 80% of what we say, these words are incredibly powerful.

But what about all the other words such as chips, horse, sleep, smooth, Peppa Pig, and mountain? These are called fringe vocabulary words. Fringe vocabulary words are more specific, and are necessary to convey a clear message; such as asking for the chocolate cupcake, with pink icing and blue sprinkles, or telling somebody about how you rode the white horse with brown patches at the beach!

Often fringe vocabulary is easier to learn for children using picture based communication, this is because a drawing of the word “horse” (fringe vocabulary example) is easier to identify than the word “put” (core vocabulary example). However, with the right supports, your child will begin to understand the meaning of the core words, and learn their corresponding symbols. Each child is different, and will benefit from support with different groups of words. Your Speech-Language Therapist will be able to assist you in identifying words to target, working towards access to a great range of core and fringe words.


Beukelman, D. R., & Mirenda, P. (2013). Augmentative and alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Co.

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