Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nonword repetition and word learning: The nature of the relationship

Gathercole, S. E. (2006). Nonword repetition and word learning: The nature of the relationship.       
           Applied Psycholinguistics, 27(04), 513-543. 

This paper reviews a wide scope of literature on the relationship between nonword repetition abilities and vocabulary acquisition in children.  In a nonword repetition task, one is required to repeat a novel phonological form, such as fiemoychee, and repetition accuracy is judged.  During the process of vocabulary acquisition, all new words encountered in the environment are seen as nonwords, as they are previously unencountered phonological forms. It follows from this assumption that nonword repetition abilities would be linked to the ability to acquire vocabulary. Experimental findings are reported to help support this relationship. A key finding comes from a longitudinal study that demonstrated a strong, positive correlation between nonword repetition abilities in 4-year-old children, and vocabulary size at ages 4-8 (Gathercole & Baddeley, 1989; Gathercole et al., 1992). This relationship existed independently of general cognitive ability and age, showing that nonword repetition abilities have an important predictive link to later vocabulary development.

The cognitive mechanism linking nonword repetition and vocabulary acquisition may be an individual’s phonological storage capacity. Phonological storage refers to the ability to briefly retain verbal information within the current focus of attention (Baddeley, 1986). When you initially encounter a new word a phonological representation is automatically generated in your short-term phonological store. Word learning occurs over repeated exposures to this phonological form, wherein one eventually develops a stable representation of a new word. Consistent with this, children with an unexplained developmental language impairment known as specific language impairment (SLI) are poor at nonword repetition (Gathercole & Baddeley, 1990) – so much so that poor nonword repetition abilities are considered a clinical marker for the disorder (Bishop et al., 1996).

The phonological storage account of the link between nonword repetition and vocabulary is by no means universally held. Both in the paper and in the commentaries that follow it, several alternate views are considered including phonological processing, and motor speech production.

Blogger: Nicolette Noonan
Nicolette is a second year Master’s student in the Speech and Language Sciences program studying language learning

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