Toward Tense as a Clinical Marker of Specific Language Impairment in English-Speaking Children A critical clinical issue is the identification of a clinical marker, a linguistic form or principle that can be shown to be characteristic of children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI). In this paper we evaluate, as candidate clinical markers, a set of morphemes that mark Tense. In English, this includes ... Research Article
Research Article  |   December 01, 1996
Toward Tense as a Clinical Marker of Specific Language Impairment in English-Speaking Children
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Mabel L. Rice
    University of Kansas Lawrence
  • Kenneth Wexler
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge
  • Contact author: Mabel L. Rice, University of Kansas, Child Language Doctoral Program, 1082 Robert Dole Human Development Center, Lawrence, KS 66045.
    Contact author: Mabel L. Rice, University of Kansas, Child Language Doctoral Program, 1082 Robert Dole Human Development Center, Lawrence, KS 66045.×
Article Information
Language Disorders / Specific Language Impairment / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   December 01, 1996
Toward Tense as a Clinical Marker of Specific Language Impairment in English-Speaking Children
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 1996, Vol. 39, 1239-1257. doi:10.1044/jshr.3906.1239
History: Received September 5, 1995 , Accepted May 22, 1996
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 1996, Vol. 39, 1239-1257. doi:10.1044/jshr.3906.1239
History: Received September 5, 1995; Accepted May 22, 1996

A critical clinical issue is the identification of a clinical marker, a linguistic form or principle that can be shown to be characteristic of children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI). In this paper we evaluate, as candidate clinical markers, a set of morphemes that mark Tense. In English, this includes -s third person singular, -ed regular past, BE, and DO. According to the Extended Optional Infinitive Account (EOI) of Rice, Wexler, and Cleave (1995), this set of morphemes is likely to appear optionally in the grammars of children with SLI at a rate lower than the optionality evident in younger controls. Three groups of preschool children participated: 37 children with SLI, and two control groups, one of 40 MLU-equivalent children and another of 45 age-equivalent children. Three kinds of evidence support the conclusion that a set of morphemes that marks Tense can be considered a clinical marker: (a) low levels of accuracy for the target morphemes for the SLI group relative to either of the two control groups; (b) affectedness for the set of morphemes defined by the linguistic function of Tense, but not for morphemes unrelated to Tense; and (c) a bimodal distribution for Tense-marking morphemes relative to age peers, in which the typical children are at essentially adult levels of the grammar, whereas children in the SLI group were at low (i.e., non-adultlike) levels of performance. The clinical symptoms are evident in omissions of surface forms. Errors of subject-verb agreement and syntactic misuses are rare, showing that, as predicted, children in an EOI stage who are likely to mark Tense optionally at the same time know a great deal about the grammatical properties of finiteness and agreement in the adult grammar. The findings are discussed in terms of alternative accounts of the grammatical limitations of children with SLI and implications for clinical identification.

Acknowledgments
This study was supported by National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders Award R01 DC01803 to Mabel L. Rice and Kenneth Wexler.
We express special appreciation to Mary Howe for her assistance with data management and data analyses, and to Pat Cleave, Karla J. Rice, Laura Smith, Carol Schekall, and Collette Thomas for subject recruitment and data collection, and to Esther Lerner for assistance with data analyses. Our special appreciation is expressed to the children who participated in this study, their parents who provided permission, and the following day care centers and preschools that supported this research. In Baldwin, KS: Rainbow Experience Preschool; Hutchinson, KS: Early Education Center; Lawrence, KS: Children’s Learning Center, Community Child Care Services, Head Start, Hilltop Child Development Center, Kindercare, Language Acquisition Preschool, Stepping Stones, United Child Development Center; Lee’s Summit, MO: Early Childhood Center; Olathe, KS: Developmental Learning Center, Dinosaur Den Preschool, Guardian Angel Daycare; Ottawa, KS: Franklin County Daycare, Hawthorne School; Overland Park, KS: Prairie Star-Blue Valley; Shawnee Mission, KS public school system; Wellsville, KS: Wellsville Elementary Preschool.
Earlier partial reports of the evidence and arguments presented in this paper appeared in papers/posters presented at the 19th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (1994), the national convention of the Society for Research in Child Development (March 1995), the Symposium for Research on Children with Learning Disabilities (Madison, June 1995), the Workshop on Specific Language Impairment sponsored by the Linguistics Summer Institute (July 1995), and in speeches presented at the University of London and the University of Essex (June 1995).
Order a Subscription
Pay Per View
Entire Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research content & archive
24-hour access
This Article
24-hour access