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Symbolic Vocabularies for Communication: A review

  • Simon Judge

This paper presents data from a small project reviewing the symbolic vocabularies available in the UK. The initial hypothesis of this work was that vocabulary packages are currently poorly described and characterised, leading to poor decision making around packages. The 'rise of the apps' has confounded this problem with a deluge of poorly developed and described applications. This objective review describes the range and characteristics of both 'traditional' vocabularies and those avaliable on mobile devices ('apps'). As well as reviewing the current market, an initial framework for characterisation of packages is suggested.


Test sentences were used to systematically characterise the features of the vocabularies. Programatic analysis of the vocabularies was also carried out.


Current 'first generation' vocabulary packages are heavily biased towards categorically organised systems. The use of grammar features within these packages is relatively sparse, with only very recent packages making an attempt at some automatic grammar features. Where grammar features do exist (generally manually selected, pre-defined grammar), they are often inconsistently implemented. The increased use of apps has undoubtedly changed practices but it has not expanded the range of product features. Indeed, the vast majority of apps could broadly be characterised as 'talking photo albums', often developed for individual needs.


Improving the way we describe packages will lead to better, more objective, decision-making around appropriate packages for people who use AAC.

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