Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The production of complement clauses in children with language impairment.

Steel, G., Rose, M., & Eadie, P. (2016). The Production of Complement Clauses in Children With Language Impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research59(2), 330-341.

Although a large body of research on children with language impairments has focused on problems in early language development, few studies have examined more complex, later-developing linguistic structures. One such structure is the complement clause; a complement clause is a type of subordinate clause, that is, a group of words including a subject and verb but cannot stand alone as a sentence. The complement clause completes the meaning of a noun or verb in the sentence. For example, in the sentence, ‘He never expected that she would come’, the clause ‘that she would come’ is the complement of the verb. One type of complement clause involves a simple infinitive such as ‘I need to wash the orange’ or ‘The girl wanted Dad to play hide-and-seek’. Note that in the second example, the two clauses have difference subjects, that is, the subject of the clause ‘The girl wanted...’ is different from the subject in the complement clause ‘Dad to play hide-and-seek’. In this study, the authors were interested in comparing the production of these complement clauses that contain a different subject but cannot stand alone (i.e., nonfinite clauses) to another type of complement clause, the sentential complement. A sentential complement can stand alone as in the sentence, ‘I pretended that Teddy had a bath’.

The purpose of the study was to compare the performance of children with language impairment between 5;1 and 8;10, and typically developing children between 3;11 and 5;3 on the production of sentences with nonfinite and sentential complement clauses. Children’s responses were coded based on inclusion of the target clause structure, semantic (meaning) accuracy, syntactic (grammatical) accuracy, and the number of different verbs used in the task. When the groups were compared on their production of nonfinite clauses with different subjects, no differences were found for target clause structure, syntactic accuracy, and number of different verbs used although children with language impairment made more semantic errors. For sentential complements, children with language impairment included fewer sentential complement structures, used less syntactically and semantically accurate structures, and used fewer different verbs than the typically developing group.

The authors suggested that while most typically developing children had mastered the sentential complement form, children with language impairment may have less processing capacity in order to accurately combine multiple ideas into a sentence to produce sentential complements. In addition, when children with language impairment produce either type of complex clause structure, the demands of the complex structure may compromise their ability to accurately access and combine other components of the sentence, leading to semantic and syntactic errors.  The authors argued that use of elicitation tasks in clinical assessment will capture complex sentence production more comprehensively, in order for interventions to be more directly tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of each individual child.

Blogger: Alex Cross is completing a combined MClSc and PhD in speech language pathology. Her work focusing on reading will be part of both the Language and Working Memory and the Language, Reading, and Cognitive Neuroscience labs.

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