School-Age Children Talk About Chess: Does Knowledge Drive Syntactic Complexity? PurposeThis study examined language productivity and syntactic complexity in school-age children in relation to their knowledge of the topic of discussion—the game of chess.MethodChildren (N = 32; mean age = 10;11 [years;months]) who played chess volunteered to be interviewed by an adult examiner who had little or no experience playing ... Article
Article  |   August 01, 2009
School-Age Children Talk About Chess: Does Knowledge Drive Syntactic Complexity?
 
Author Notes
  • Contact author: Marilyn A. Nippold, Communication Disorders and Sciences, College of Education, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403. E-mail: nippold@uoregon.edu.
Article Information
Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Normal Language Processing / Language
Article   |   August 01, 2009
School-Age Children Talk About Chess: Does Knowledge Drive Syntactic Complexity?
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, August 2009, Vol. 52, 856-871. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2009/08-0094)
History: Received May 5, 2008 , Revised September 3, 2008 , Accepted November 11, 2008
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, August 2009, Vol. 52, 856-871. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2009/08-0094)
History: Received May 5, 2008; Revised September 3, 2008; Accepted November 11, 2008
Web of Science® Times Cited: 17

PurposeThis study examined language productivity and syntactic complexity in school-age children in relation to their knowledge of the topic of discussion—the game of chess.

MethodChildren (N = 32; mean age = 10;11 [years;months]) who played chess volunteered to be interviewed by an adult examiner who had little or no experience playing chess. Children’s chess knowledge and experience was assessed, and each child was classified as a novice or an expert player. Each child participated in 3 speaking tasks: General Conversation, Chess Conversation, and Chess Explanation. Interviews were audiorecorded, transcribed into Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts (J. F. Miller & R. Chapman, 2003), segmented into T-units, and coded for finite clauses. Each speaking task was analyzed for total T-units; mean length of T-unit; clausal density; and nominal, relative, and adverbial clause use.

ResultsTotal T-units, mean length of T-unit, clausal density, and the use of each type of subordinate clause was substantially higher in the Chess Explanation task compared with the Chess Conversation task or the General Conversation task. Compared with the novices, the experts knew more about chess, had played longer, and were stronger players. Nevertheless, the novices and experts did not differ on any of the language factors for any of the speaking tasks.

ConclusionsLanguage productivity and syntactic complexity in school-age children are strongly influenced by the speaking task. When children are presented with a motivating and challenging topic, they rise to the occasion to explain the finer details of it to a naïve adult.

Acknowledgments
Portions of this study were presented at the 11th Congress of the International Association for the Study of Child Language, Edinburgh, Scotland, July 2008. This project was supported by United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation Grant 2003044. I express gratitude to the granting agency, and to the children who participated, their parents and guardians who granted permission, and to the public school and chess club officials who helped to recruit the participants and schedule the interviews. I also express appreciation to the University of Oregon communication disorders and sciences students who assisted with data collection and analyses, particularly Dean Vanderbush, and to the U.S. chess master who reviewed the transcripts and determined the children’s level of chess expertise.
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