BACKGROUND: The extraordinarily high incidence of grammatical language impairments in developmental disorders suggests that this uniquely human cognitive function is "fragile". Yet our understanding of the neurobiology of grammatical impairments is limited. Furthermore, there is no "gold-standard" to identify grammatical impairments and routine screening is not undertaken. An accurate screening test to identify grammatical abilities would serve the research, health and education communities, further our understanding of developmental disorders, and identify children who need remediation, many of whom are currently un-diagnosed. A potential realistic screening tool that could be widely administered is the Grammar and Phonology Screening (GAPS) test--a 10 minute test that can be administered by professionals and non-professionals alike. Here we provide a further step in evaluating the validity and accuracy (sensitivity and specificity) of the GAPS test in identifying children who have Specific Language Impairment (SLI). METHODS AND FINDINGS: We tested three groups of children; two groups aged 3;6-6:6, a typically developing (n = 30) group, and a group diagnosed with SLI: (n = 11) (Young (Y)-SLI), and a further group aged 6;9-8;11 with SLI (Older (O)-SLI) (n = 10) who were above the test age norms. We employed a battery of language assessments including the GAPS test to assess the children's language abilities. For Y-SLI children, analyses revealed a sensitivity and specificity at the 5(th) and 10(th) percentile of 1.00 and 0.98, respectively, and for O-SLI children at the 10(th) and 15(th) percentile .83 and .90, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: The findings reveal that the GAPS is highly accurate in identifying impaired vs. non-impaired children up to 6;8 years, and has moderate-to-high accuracy up to 9 years. The results indicate that GAPS is a realistic tool for the early identification of grammatical abilities and impairment in young children. A larger investigation is warranted in children with SLI and other developmental disorders.
This paper tests claims that children with Grammatical(G)-SLI are impaired in hierarchical structural dependencies at the clause level and in whatever underlies such dependencies with respect to movement, chain formation and feature checking; that is, their impairment lies in the syntactic computational system itself (the Computational Grammatical Complexity hypothesis proposed by van der Lely in previous work). We use a grammaticality judgement task to test whether G-SLI children's errors in wh-questions are due to the hypothesised impairment in syntactic dependencies at the clause level or lie in more general processes outside the syntactic system, such as working memory capacity. We compare the performance of 14 G-SLI children (aged 10-17 years) with that of 36 younger language-matched controls (aged 5-8 years). We presented matrix wh-subject and object questions balanced for wh-words (who/what/which) that were grammatical, ungrammatical, or semantically inappropriate. Ungrammatical questions contained wh-trace or T-to-C dependency violations that G-SLI children had previously produced in elicitation tasks. G-SLI children, like their language controls, correctly accepted grammatical questions, but rejected semantically inappropriate ones. However, they were significantly impaired in rejecting wh-trace and T-to-C dependency violations. The findings provide further support for the CGC hypothesis that G-SLI children have a core deficit in the computational system itself that affects syntactic dependencies at the clause level.
This study uses near-infrared spectroscopy in young infants in order to elucidate the nature of functional cerebral processing for speech. Previous imaging studies of infants' speech perception revealed left-lateralized responses to native language. However, it is unclear if these activations were due to language per se rather than to some low-level acoustic correlate of spoken language. Here we compare native (L1) and non-native (L2) languages with 3 different nonspeech conditions including emotional voices, monkey calls, and phase scrambled sounds that provide more stringent controls. Hemodynamic responses to these stimuli were measured in the temporal areas of Japanese 4 month-olds. The results show clear left-lateralized responses to speech, prominently to L1, as opposed to various activation patterns in the nonspeech conditions. Furthermore, implementing a new analysis method designed for infants, we discovered a slower hemodynamic time course in awake infants. Our results are largely explained by signal-driven auditory processing. However, stronger activations to L1 than to L2 indicate a language-specific neural factor that modulates these responses. This study is the first to discover a significantly higher sensitivity to L1 in 4 month-olds and reveals a neural precursor of the functional specialization for the higher cognitive network.
English speakers have to recognize, for example, that te[m] in te[m] pens is a form of ten, despite place assimilation of the nasal consonant. Children with dyslexia and specific language impairment (SLI) are commonly proposed to have a phonological deficit, and we investigate whether that deficit extends to place assimilation, as a way of probing phonological representations and phonological grammar. Children with SLI plus dyslexia, SLI only, and dyslexia only listened to sentences containing a target word in different assimilatory contexts-viable, unviable, and no change-and pressed a button to report hearing the target. The dyslexia-only group did not differ from age-matched controls, but the SLI groups showed more limited ability to accurately identify words within sentences. Once this factor was taken into account, the groups did not differ in their ability to compensate for assimilation. The results add to a growing body of evidence that phonological representations are not necessarily impaired in dyslexia. SLI children's results suggest that they too are sensitive to this aspect of phonological grammar, but are more liberal in their acceptance of alternative phonological forms of words. Furthermore, these children's ability to reject alternative phonological forms seems to be primarily limited by their vocabulary size and phonological awareness abilities.
This study contributes to the characterization of the deficit in specific language impairment (SLI) by investigating whether deficits in the production and comprehension of pronouns in Greek children with SLI are best accounted for by domain-general or domain-specific models of the language faculty. The Greek pronominal system distinguishes between acoustically salient and non-salient forms, which are both interpreted on semantic/thematic grounds, and non-salient forms (object clitics) interpreted on syntactic grounds either in spec-head agreement or syntactic dependencies incurring feature checking through movement/chain formation. The results revealed a significant effect of the syntactic configuration on the production and comprehension of object clitics. Children with SLI were significantly impaired in the production and comprehension of those clitics that enter into operations necessitated by complex syntactic dependencies involving feature checking through movement/chain formation. Thus, the data support the computational grammatical complexity hypothesis and indicate that the deficits associated with object clitics in Greek-speaking children with SLI result from domain-specific impairment with syntactic dependencies incurring feature checking at the clause level involving movement/chain formation.
The Relativized Minimality approach to A'-dependencies (Friedmann et al., 2009) predicts that headed object relative clauses (RCs) and which-questions are the most difficult, due to the presence of a lexical restriction on both the subject and the object DP which creates intervention. We investigated comprehension of center-embedded headed object RCs with Italian children, where Number and Gender feature values on subject and object DPs are manipulated. We found that, Number conditions are always more accurate than Gender ones, showing that intervention is sensitive to DP-internal structure. We propose a finer definition of the lexical restriction where external and syntactically active features (such as Number) reduce intervention whereas internal and (possibly) lexicalized features (such as Gender) do so to a lesser extent. Our results are also compatible with a memory interference approach in which the human parser is sensitive to highly specific properties of the linguistic input, such as the cue-based model (Van Dyke, 2007).
This article focuses on some of the linguistic components that underlie letter-sound decoding skills and reading comprehension: specifically phonology, morphology, and syntax. Many children who have reading difficulties had language deficits that were detectable before they began reading. Early identification of language difficulties will therefore help identify children at risk of reading failure. Using a developmental psycholinguistic framework, the authors provide a model of how syntax, morphology, and phonology break down in children with language impairments. The article reports on a screening test of these language abilities for preschool or young school-aged children that identifies those at risk for literacy problems and in need of further assessment.
van der Lely, Heather K JMarshall, Chloe R063713/Wellcome Trust/United KingdomResearch Support, Non-U.S. Gov'tUnited StatesJournal of learning disabilitiesJ Learn Disabil. 2010 Jul-Aug;43(4):357-68. Epub 2010 May 17.
In this research we investigate the relevance of phonological parameters in acquisition of Serbian language. Implementation of British Test of Phonological Screeing (TOPhS, van der Lely and Harris, 1999) has revealed that phonological complexity (syllabic and metrical structure) influences accuracy in non-word repetition task and could be used in assessment of phonological development of typically developing children, as well as of children with Grammatical Specific Language Impairment (G-SLI) (van der Lely and Harris, 1999; Gallon, Harris & van der Lely, 2007).Having in mind phonological properties of Serbian language (Zec, 2000, 2007), we hypothesized that several parameters can be used in assessment of phonological development in Serbian: a. onset (consonants cluster at the beginning of syllable; b. rime (consonant at the end of syllable). c. word of three syllables, and d. placement of stressed syllable in a word. Combination of these parameters gave us a list of 96 pseudo words of different levels of complexity.Participants were 14 adults and 30 children from kindergarten divided into three age groups (3, 4 and 5 years). Task for the participants was to loudly repeat every pseudo-word, and their reproduction was recorded. Transcription of their answers and coding of errors allowed us to analyze impact of different parameters on accuracy of phonological reproduction in children of different ages.The results indicate that the ability for reproduction of Serbian phonological properties develops in early preschool period. The most difficult is cluster of consonants at the beginning of syllable, and consonant at the end of syllable. These two parameters are even more difficult for reproduction in three-syllable words or in words that have more then one parameter marked. Placement of stress in a word is acquired even before 3 years. In other words, the results have shown that investigated features could be good indicators in assessment of early phonological development of typically developing children. Delay in their acquisition could reveal possible developmental difficulties.