Slurred Speech, Epenthesis

By Pam Marshalla

Boy with ToyQ: My male client is five years of age. He has developmental artic errors and slurred speech. He also add a schwa at the ends of words: “Baby” is “baby-uh” and “Sand” is “Sand-uh.” What would account for this and how would you address this kind of speech sound error?

Developmental errors are normal in a five year old but slurred speech is not. Something is going on. This sounds like mild dysarthria.

I see the addition of the schwa at the end of words as a part of normal development. Toddlers always add a schwa to the end of words to make one-syllable CVC words into easier-to-pronounce two-syllable CV-CV words. Examples: “Dad” changes to “dada”; “Mom” changes to “mama”; and “Dog” changes to “Do-guh.”

The CV is the simplest syllable in terms of motor control.  It is the canonical syllable, meaning that it is the most fundamental. The CVC is more difficult. Your client may still be adding the schwa to words because phonologically and motorically he is still operating at that level.

I have seen this many times. I usually play with the words both ways.  We over-practice the incorrect production to help him hear it, and then we learn the new way, and then we play back-and-forth between the two.

5 thoughts on “Slurred Speech, Epenthesis”

  1. What about 8, 9, and 10 year olds who add a schwa to the end of words? Or to the middle of words? I have 3 at my school. It actually seems to be more of a fluency issue at this point. It gets worse when they are tense or excited. Do you have any ideas for that? Thanks, Kristin Pruett

    1. I see the addition of a schwa as the child’s way of making a simpler motor pattern.

      The CV is the simplest motor pattern.
      Therefore change a CVC to a CV-CV to make it easier.
      All kids do this, e.g., “mom” changes to “mama,” and “dad” changes to “dada.”
      They also do this with the diminutive — “dog” changes to “doggie” and Cat” changes to “kittie.”

      Therefore adding the schwa is a strategy to help them learn new motor patterns.
      I actually TEACH my clients to add a schwa before I teach them final consonants.


      1. Does this also apply to adding a schwa at the end of CV and VCV words? I have a 4 year old client who produces things like no-uh, too-uh

  2. I have a 10 year old female student with a diagnosis of seizure disorder, ADHD, and language disorder. Addtionally, she receives support from a special education teacher for reading, writing, and math. She prolongs sounds at the end of words. For example, I am goingngngng home. She primarily does this in conversation and responding to questions. It often appears that she’s searching for what she wants to say next and keeps her voiced turned on until she gathers her thoughts together. She is a slow processor. Is this fluency, schwa insertion, word-finding or something else? Do you have any suggestions for how to target it?

    1. Kristin,
      Since Pam Marshalla passed away in 2015, OMI Board Chair Robyn Merkel-Walsh MA, CCC-SLP, COM, answers blog questions for us. Here is her reply:

      Without observing this patient it is hard to say but sounds like a dysarthria quality which would make sense in light of other neurological issues such as seizures. Conduct an oral motor, fluency and articulation assessment to gather further information.

      I hope this helps — thank you!

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