“Whatdunit?” Sentence Comprehension Abilities of Children With SLI: Sensitivity to Word Order in Canonical and Noncanonical Structures Purpose With Aim 1, we compared the comprehension of and sensitivity to canonical and noncanonical word order structures in school-age children with specific language impairment (SLI) and same-age typically developing (TD) children. Aim 2 centered on the developmental improvement of sentence comprehension in the groups. With Aim 3, we compared ... Research Article
Research Article  |   September 18, 2017
“Whatdunit?” Sentence Comprehension Abilities of Children With SLI: Sensitivity to Word Order in Canonical and Noncanonical Structures
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • James W. Montgomery
    Communication Sciences and Disorders, Ohio University, Athens
  • Ronald B. Gillam
    Communication Disorders and Deaf Education, Utah State University, Logan
  • Julia L. Evans
    School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas–Dallas, Richardson
  • Alexander V. Sergeev
    Social and Public Health, Ohio University, Athens
  • Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication. ×
  • Correspondence to James W. Montgomery: montgoj1@ohio.edu
  • Editor: Sean Redmond
    Editor: Sean Redmond×
  • Associate Editor: Megan Dunn Davison
    Associate Editor: Megan Dunn Davison×
Article Information
Language Disorders / Specific Language Impairment / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   September 18, 2017
“Whatdunit?” Sentence Comprehension Abilities of Children With SLI: Sensitivity to Word Order in Canonical and Noncanonical Structures
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, September 2017, Vol. 60, 2603-2618. doi:10.1044/2017_JSLHR-L-17-0025
History: Received January 19, 2017 , Revised March 14, 2017 , Accepted April 17, 2017
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, September 2017, Vol. 60, 2603-2618. doi:10.1044/2017_JSLHR-L-17-0025
History: Received January 19, 2017; Revised March 14, 2017; Accepted April 17, 2017

Purpose With Aim 1, we compared the comprehension of and sensitivity to canonical and noncanonical word order structures in school-age children with specific language impairment (SLI) and same-age typically developing (TD) children. Aim 2 centered on the developmental improvement of sentence comprehension in the groups. With Aim 3, we compared the comprehension error patterns of the groups.

Method Using a “Whatdunit” agent selection task, 117 children with SLI and 117 TD children (ages 7:0–11:11, years:months) propensity matched on age, gender, mother's education, and family income pointed to the picture that best represented the agent in semantically implausible canonical structures (subject–verb–object, subject relative) and noncanonical structures (passive, object relative).

Results The SLI group performed worse than the TD group across sentence types. TD children demonstrated developmental improvement across each sentence type, but children with SLI showed improvement only for canonical sentences. Both groups chose the object noun as agent significantly more often than the noun appearing in a prepositional phrase.

Conclusions In the absence of semantic–pragmatic cues, comprehension of canonical and noncanonical sentences by children with SLI is limited, with noncanonical sentence comprehension being disproportionately limited. The children's ability to make proper semantic role assignments to the noun arguments in sentences, especially noncanonical, is significantly hindered.

Acknowledgments
This research was supported by National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Grant R01 DC010883, awarded to James W. Montgomery, Ronald B. Gillam, and Julia L. Evans. We express our gratitude to all the children and their parents who participated in this study. We also thank Beula Magimairaj, Naveen Nagaraj, Misha Finney, Yazmin Ahmad Rusli, Jenny Boyden, Andrea Fung, Kelly Rogers, Llely Duarte, Katie Squires, and Allison Hancock for their invaluable assistance during various phases of this study.
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