Neighbourhood density and 'Jack' - Considering Lexical Properties in Target Selection



High neighbourhood density words

The words in a neighbourhood are based on one sound substitution (e.g., sat to pat or sat to sit), one sound deletion (e.g., sat to at) or one sound addition (e.g., sat to scat). High neighbourhood density words are phonetically similar to many other words and have 11 or more neighbours. High neighbourhood density words are said to reside in a dense neighbourhood.

‘Bat’ is in a dense neighbourhood of 40 according to the CURRENTLY INACTIVE Washington University Speech Lab Neighborhood Database. The 39 neighbours are: back bad badge bag baht bait ban bang bash bass bast batch bath batteau batten batter battle beat bet bight bit boat boot bought bout brat but cat chat fat gnat hat mat pat rat sat tat that vat.

‘Ship’ is in a neighbourhood of 19 so has 18 neighbours: kip sheave shill zip sip nip shin dip gyp rip hip chip lip tip pip sheep shear shop shape.

High density vs. Low density

Children recognise and repeat high-density words slower and less accurately than low-density words which have 10 or fewer neighbours. Also, children name high-density words more accurately than low-density words.

This suggests that lexical processing in children entails a high-density disadvantage in recognition and a high-density advantage in production (Storkel, Armbruster & Hogan, 2006).

Choosing treatment words

The research suggests that we should consider using, as 'treatment words', either high frequency words, or low neighbourhood density / sparse neighbourhood words (Storkel & Morrissette, 2002). For more on high frequency words see 'What about 'us'?

Is 'Jack' in a sparse neighbourhood?

'Jack' often appears in SLP/SLT intervention materials for the voiced affricate as it is a familiar name to children (they may know a real 'Jack') and there are Jacks everywhere in children's books and rhymes (Jack and Jill, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack be Nimble, Jack the Giant Killer, Little Jack Horner and Jack Sprat, for example).

The dg Syllable Initial Word Initial words: jump jewel jam jeep juice jeans jet junk gym jog jug jazz jig gaol (jail) Jag jukebox jelly juggle jetty jacket jaguar jelly beans jig-saw jumper juggler germs jalopy jolly jumbuck jeweller joey judo jade Jack Horner Jack and Jill Jack Sprat Jack be Nimble that you can find with other resources here include the word 'Jack' four times.

'Jack' is a familiar, picturable and potentially fun word, but is it a 'good word' in terms of neighbourhood density?


The answer is 'no'

Sadly, the answer is 'no'. 'Jack has seventeen neighbours - so it resides in a dense neighbourhood. Other familiar J-words in child speech materials also have >10 neighbours. For example, gym (14 neighbours), jam (16), jet (20), jig (17), job (19), jog (11), juice (13), joke (11) and jug (16).

The good news, if you want to use low neighbourhood density words in intervention, is that all the other words reside in sparse neighbourhoods with <11 neighbours. They are: germ (7), giant (0), jaguar (0), jalopy (0) jester (0), jazz (7), jeans (4), jelly (5), jetty (4) jewel (6), joey (0), joust (5), judo (1), jump (8), junk (9).

Picturable verbs, nouns and adjectives with <11 neighbours

By running verbs, nouns and adjectives through word density databases it was possible to come up with many picturable verbs, nouns and adjectives from sparse neighbourhoods.

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