Monday, January 22, 2018

Processing Binding Relations in Specific Language Impairment

Pronouns are words like ‘he’ or ‘she’ that can take the place of a noun in a sentence. So instead of saying, The girl hits the ball, we can say, She hits the ball. Confusion sometimes occurs when there is more than one noun or pronoun in a sentence. For example, in the sentence, The girl splashed her, it may not be clear to the listener if the ‘her’ refers to ‘the girl’ or someone else. Some pronouns, however, provide more clues about how to connect information. In the sentence, The girl splashed herself, the pronoun, ‘herself’ (called a reflexive pronoun) tells the listener that the girl is splashing her own self. The researchers in this study were interested in whether or not children with and without a developmental language impairment (DLD; also known as specific language impairment) use the same principles for binding information with appropriate pronouns.

The researchers collected data from 46 school age children: 22 with DLD, and 24 with typically developing language. The children first heard three versions of a sentence in which there was either a pronoun, a reflexive, or a noun: The alligator knows that the leopard with the green eyes is patting him/himself/the girl on the head with a soft pillow. At the option point in the sentence, the children were presented with a picture of the actor coming just before (i.e., LEOPARD in the example sentence), and asked to decide if it was something that could be alive or not. Compared to the responses to the noun (i.e., ‘the girl’), slower responses were expected for the pronoun (‘him’) than the reflexive (‘himself’) because the reflexive pronoun activates binding with the actor. The results indicate that in general, the children with DLD were slower at responding to the picture, but showed the same response patterns as the typically developing group.

The results of this study add to the growing evidence that children with DLD show typical patterns of language development. The authors speculated that the overall slower responses of children with DLD in sentence processing tasks could reflect interference within working memory.

Blogger: Ren Lohmann is an MA student in Linguistics, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald.

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