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Core vs. Fringe Vocabulary: Understanding the Key Differences

Core vs. Fringe Vocabulary: Understanding the Key Differences

Posted on Nov 3rd, 2023.

When it comes to speech and language development, it's essential to differentiate between core vs. fringe vocabulary. These terms are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion. 

While both are crucial components of communication, they have distinct roles and significance. 

In this post, we'll explore the differences between the two and the role of core vocabulary in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

What Is Core Vocabulary?

Core vocabulary is a fundamental component of language and communication. It consists of a set of high-frequency words that are commonly used across various situations and contexts. These words play a pivotal role in everyday communication, allowing individuals to express a wide range of thoughts, needs, and emotions efficiently. Core vocabulary is considered the building blocks of language and serves as a crucial foundation for speech and language development.

Examples of Core Vocabulary Words

  • Basic Pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, they
  • Common Verbs: Want, like, go, stop, help, eat, drink, play
  • Essential Adjectives: Big, small, happy, sad
  • Location and Direction: Here, there
  • Response Words: Yes, no
  • Quantifiers: More, less

These words are versatile and applicable in everyday conversations, making them essential for effective communication.

What Is Fringe Vocabulary?

Fringe vocabulary, in contrast, consists of words that are less frequently used and have more specific or situational relevance. These words tend to be related to particular interests, activities, or niche subjects. Fringe vocabulary words are not as universally applicable as core vocabulary words and are typically used in specialized contexts.

Examples of Fringe Vocabulary Words

  • Animals: Penguin, giraffe, kangaroo
  • Fantasy Creatures: Unicorn, dragon
  • Transportation: Spaceship, rocket
  • Hobbies and Interests: Photography, ballet, jazz, gardening
  • Science and Nature: Volcano, ecosystem, metamorphosis, molecule, constellation, geology
  • Art and Creativity: Sculpture, painting
  • History and Culture: Medieval, Renaissance
  • Specialized Professions: Astronaut, archaeologist

Fringe words are often related to specific hobbies, interests, or areas of expertise. While they may not be universally relevant, they add depth and nuance to communication, allowing individuals to discuss specialized topics.

Understanding the Differences of Core vs. Fringe Vocabulary

Now that we've explored what core vocabulary and fringe vocabulary entail, let's delve deeper into their distinctions. Core vocabulary and fringe vocabulary serve distinct purposes in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, and understanding these differences is key to effective communication support.

Frequency of Use

Core vocabulary is used frequently in everyday communication, making it highly relevant and practical. Fringe vocabulary, in contrast, is used less frequently and is often related to specific interests or domains of knowledge.


Core vocabulary words are versatile and adaptable, capable of serving a wide range of communication needs. Fringe vocabulary words are more specialized and are typically reserved for specific contexts or topics.

Universal Relevance

Core vocabulary forms the foundation for effective communication, allowing individuals to engage in common social interactions and express basic needs and emotions. Fringe vocabulary adds richness and complexity to communication, enhancing the ability to discuss specific interests or subjects.

Learning Priority

When implementing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, core vocabulary is typically introduced as a priority due to its universal applicability. Fringe vocabulary may be introduced later to address individualized interests and needs

Expanding Language

Core vocabulary is essential for expanding language skills and building a strong communication base. Fringe vocabulary complements this foundation by allowing individuals to explore specialized topics and express unique interests.

Now that we've clarified the distinctions between core and fringe vocabulary, let's delve into why understanding and prioritizing core vocabulary is crucial, particularly in the context of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

Related: What Age Should Children Start Talking Clearly and When to Worry? 

The Significance of Core Vocabulary in AAC

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) refers to a set of tools and strategies used to support individuals with communication difficulties. AAC systems can range from low-tech options like picture boards to high-tech devices with speech-generating capabilities. Regardless of the AAC system used, core vocabulary plays a central role in facilitating effective communication. Here's why core vocabulary is so vital in AAC:

1. Efficiency

AAC users often face the challenge of expressing themselves with limited time and effort. Core vocabulary words allow individuals to communicate more efficiently and express a wide range of ideas using a relatively small set of words. This efficiency is especially valuable in situations where communication needs to be quick and effective.

2. Flexibility

Core vocabulary words provide flexibility in communication. They can be combined with other words to create sentences, questions, requests, and more. AAC users can adapt core vocabulary to different contexts and convey their thoughts and emotions effectively.

3. Increased Independence

Prioritizing core vocabulary empowers AAC users to become more independent communicators. When they have access to essential words, they can express their needs, preferences, and opinions without relying heavily on others to guess their intentions.

4. Wide Use

Core vocabulary is versatile and applicable to a wide range of situations and topics. Whether an AAC user wants to talk about their day, express emotions, or make requests, core words provide the necessary building blocks for effective communication.

5. Language Growth

Mastering core vocabulary is a stepping stone to further language development. Once individuals are proficient in using core words, they can expand their vocabulary by incorporating fringe words and more specialized terms.

6. Individualization

AAC systems are highly customizable to meet individual needs. While core vocabulary is essential, AAC users can also include fringe words and personalized vocabulary to address specific interests and preferences.


In the realm of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), the distinction between core vocabulary and fringe vocabulary is pivotal. These two facets of language serve unique roles in empowering individuals with communication challenges to express themselves effectively and authentically.

Core vocabulary, with its universal applicability and versatility, lays the groundwork for clear and efficient communication. It provides individuals with the fundamental tools to engage in everyday conversations, express their basic needs and emotions, and connect meaningfully with others. Core vocabulary is the anchor upon which communication skills are built, making it an indispensable component of AAC systems.

Fringe vocabulary, on the other hand, adds depth and richness to communication. While less frequently used and often specific to individual interests or topics, fringe vocabulary allows individuals to delve into specialized areas, share their unique passions, and explore niche subjects. It transforms communication from functional to expressive, enabling individuals to convey their personality and preferences.

Understanding the complementary nature of core and fringe vocabulary is essential for effectively supporting individuals in their AAC journey. By prioritizing core vocabulary as the foundation and gradually incorporating fringe vocabulary to address personal interests, communication becomes a powerful tool for connection and self-expression.

At Tryumph Speech Therapy, we recognize the significance of tailoring AAC systems to individual needs. Our expert speech-language pathologists are dedicated to helping children with speech and language challenges unlock their full communication potential.

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