Nippold, N.A. (2009). School-age children talk about chess: Does knowledge drive syntactic complexity? Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 52, 856-871.
Speech-language pathologists who work with school-age children are continually searching for an effective method for obtaining a spontaneous language sample that is quick yet yields accurate information regarding a child’s linguistic abilities. Previous studies have demonstrated that when speaking in the expository genre, vs conversation or narrative, children exhibit greater syntactic complexity. Nippold (2009) hypothesized that complex thought supported by a knowledge base would result in the use of complex syntax. She examined the language productivity and syntactic complexity of 32 children using chess as the topic of discussion.
18 expert and 14 novice chess players, aged 7;3 – 15;4 provided language samples during an interview format across three different speaking tasks: general conversation, chess conversation, and chess experience. All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and entered into SALT. Syntactic complexity measurements of the transcriptions included mean length of t unit, clausal density, and use of nominal, relative, and adverbial subordinate clauses. Group comparisons were made using a series of one-way analyses of variance with each child’s chronological age, raw score, chess knowledge, and years of play serving as the dependent variables. Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients were calculated using the same data.
Results indicated that both novice and expert chess players produced substantially greater amounts of language and spoke with higher levels of syntactic complexity during the expository task (chess explanation) compared to the conversation tasks (chess and general). The relationship between mean length of T-unit and each of the other syntactic measures revealed that mean length of T-unit alone was found to be an effective tool when scoring conversation and expository tasks for complexity.
This study provided support for using language-sampling tasks involving sufficient opportunities for children to talk about their knowledge areas. Speech-language pathologists may want to consider incorporating questioning techniques that stimulate children to reflect on complicated issues relative to their areas of expertise such as video gaming, arts, or computers when obtaining a language sample to investigate syntactic complexity.
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