Let’s Talk AAC Blog: Making AAC Work

Jane Odom M. Ed, Director of Implementation Resources at PRC, offers tips and suggestions for implementing AAC.

Who's afraid of the big bad fringe?

Posted August 14, 2018 in Making AAC Work

Those of us well versed in AAC know and love a bit of core vocabulary. Anyone who’s ever sat in a training session with me will no doubt have heard me talk about core vocabulary and it’s benefit when included in an AAC system. In contrast to core vocabulary we also have fringe vocabulary – so what on earth is the difference? And is fringe vocabulary really the big bad wolf of AAC?

Core vocabulary 
These words tend to be small words which are not specific to a topic or activity. Core words consist of all word types including verbs (action words), determiners (this, that etc), descriptors (big, small etc), pronouns (I, you etc) and conjunctions (and etc). 

Fringe vocabulary 
These words are nouns or proper nouns (names) and are much easier to represent with a picture on a vocabulary system. They are very topic specific and often highly personal to individuals – what may be frequently used fringe words for one person may not be for another.

Those of us who work in AAC love core vocabulary for many reasons including: -
-    It represents the most frequently used words across language samples for various groups of individuals (typically most language sampling studies indicate that within the most frequently used words the ratio of core to fringe words is around 80% core and 20% fringe).
-    Core vocabulary words can often be used much more flexibly - giving much greater communication value for money when teaching someone new vocabulary words. For example – if I teach an individual the word ‘bubbles’ they can only ask for bubbles. However, if I teach them ‘play’ they can request to play a game, play with a toy, play music etc. 
-    Core vocabulary words often offer multiple language functions – whereas with fringe vocabulary we can only really label or request – core vocabulary words allow us to direct, respond, comment, reject, describe and more!
The core revolution is certainly reflected in the vocabularies which are out there and with core at the heart of what we do, the majority of Liberator vocabularies will prioritise access to core vocabulary over fringe, so that people using AAC have the most frequently used words most easily accessible. But the fringe vocabulary is still there – it just doesn’t take centre stage.


easyChat Core 60 prioritises core but still allows access to fringe words



Unity 84 Sequenced has core vocabulary most instantly accessible but still allows us to access fringe through the category pages and easy to personalise ‘my pages’ accessible after the first hit of the related icon.



WordPower 42 basic has some great core vocabulary on its top page but still allows access to fringe through the groups folder.


It’s easy to think of fringe vocabulary as the unwelcome guest at the party, words which we want to avoid as they offer less communication value for money. And as I wrote about recently we all adapt how we name certain things rather than using the proper name for it.
But consider this. How weird would the English language be if it were totally devoid of Fringe Vocabulary? 

A world without any fringe vocabulary would be a strange place indeed.

no fringe

It’s tempting to go to the extreme and only teach someone core words and in the early days this certainly makes sense – but we must remember that in the long-term this isn’t reflective of how we use language. We just need to keep it balanced and avoid OVERLOADING systems with every possible fringe word someone may ever need and instead think about what’s useful – especially early on in someone’s AAC journey. 

It may be useful to teach someone how to say ‘crisps’ if it’s their favourite snack – but do they need to name every single flavour – especially early on in their AAC journey, or will simply choosing ‘crisps’ and then pointing to a bag or using colours to choose a flavour work? Think back to the tin of quality streets I talked about in my other post – do you really need to teach someone noisette triangle or will green triangle suffice? 

As opposed to core vocabulary words which can often be a little more generic between users – remember to also choose the fringe vocabulary which is personal to the person you are working with. The fringe vocabulary taught to an individual who watches the footy every weekend may differ from that of someone who goes to the zoo regularly.

So, I beg of you – please don’t ignore fringe vocabulary completely – rather bear in mind the usefulness of the fringe vocabulary you add or teach – words which are personal or important to the AAC user will be frequently used and so have importance. Think about their daily lives, their interests and what motivates them – and make sure that the 20% of the words you are giving them are useful fringe words to reflect this.

This Blog was originally posted on The Emazing AAC Emily! By Emily Gabrielle, AAC Education & Resources Consultant for Liberator Ltd.