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Haskins LiIboratories Status Report on Speech Research1993, SR-114, 113-138
Morphological Analysis and the Acquisition ofMorphology and Syntax in
Karen M. Smith-Lockt
In order to find out whether specifically-language impaired (SLl) children show a deficit inthe acquisition of inflectional morphology but not syntax, SLI children (mean age 6;2) werecompared with language-matched (mean age 4;0) and age-matched controls on theirproduction of passives. Passives were elicited from all groups, with no syntactic errors.Morphological errors were frequent and involved overgeneralization. Morphological skillswere further investigated with a series of morphological analysis tasks. The SLI childrenperformed significantly worse than their age-matched peers and were indistinguishablefrom their language-matched peers. It is concluded that SLI children show proficiency insyntax and deficits in morphology and that morphological analysis skills develop hand inhand with oral language.
The language of specifically-language impaired(SLI) children has been the issue of much recentdebate. The debate has focussed on which components of language structure and/or processes areimpaired, and in what manner (Clahsen, 1989;Gopnik, & Crago, 1991; Guilfoyle, Allen, & Moss,1991; Leonard, 1989; Leonard, Bortolini, Caselli,McGregor, & Sabbadini, 1992; Leonard,Sabbadini, Volterra, & Leonard, 1988; Rice &Oetting, 1991). These questions are of interest, notonly with respect to clinical issues of identificationand remediation of SLI, but also with respect tofurthering our understanding of languageacquisition in general. The goals of this paper areto examine the relative strengths and weaknesses
This work was supported by the National Institute of ChildHealth and Human Development grant HD01994 to HaskinsLaboratories, The University of Connecticut ResearchFoundation and a Natural Science and Engineering ResearchCouncil of Canada postgraduate fellowship.
I would like to thank all the students, teachers and speechlanguage pathologists who participated in the study, as well asNicola Warrick for her help in generating referrals andAlexandra Gottardo for helping with data collection. Specialthanks go to Ignatius Mattingly, Hyla Rubin and Diane LilloMartin for their extensive and invaluable assistance.
of SLI children in the domains of syntax andmorphology, to explore a possible account of theirdeficits and to consider the implications fornormal language acquisition.
"Specifically language-impaired" (SLI) children,have linguistic deficits in spite of normal nonverbal intelligence, adequate environmentalstimulation, normal hearing and lack ofidentifiable neurological deficits. Specific languageimpairment is generally diagnosed by comparing achild's level of oral language development tolinguistic norms for children her age, as well as tothe child's own development in other areas. If achild's linguistic development is not what wouldbe expected for her age, (i.e., if the child'sperformance falls more than one standarddeviation below the mean on standardized tests(McCauley & Swisher, 1984» and if other areas ofdevelopment are proceeding normally, a diagnosisof SLI is given.
SLI children typically begin to talk later thannormal children and have a low mean length ofutterance (MLU)l for their age. SLI childrenacquire grammatical morphemes in the sameorder as normal children (Johnston & Schery,1976). However, they typically omit grammaticalmorphemes at a higher level of language
development (measured in MLU) than do normalchildren (Johnston & Schery, 1976; Steckol &Leonard, 1979). In spite of this, SLI children doappear to use such morphemes at the earlylanguage levels (Johnston & Schery, 1976). Thus,for SLI children, there appears to be a greaterdelay in the time from first appearance of amorpheme to consistent use of the morpheme.
The fact that SLI children begin to useinflectional morphemes consistently at a higherMLU than normal children suggests that somecomponents of their grammar develop at a morenormal rate than others. MLU is not a detailedenough measure to indicate which components aredeveloping ahead of others. Nevertheless, ifinflectional morphology is not being usedconsistently, it may be that the development ofmore lengthy and complex syntactic structures isresponsible for the increase in MLU. This mightindicate that SLI children have difficulty withinflectional morphology, but not syntax.
There is some preliminary evidence that syntaxis a relative strength for SLI children (Clahsen,1989; Smith, 1992). Clahsen (1989) proposed thatGerman-speaking SLI children's syntax was intactand that apparent difficulties with syntax could beattributed to morphological deficits. In English,Smith (1992) elicited complex wh-questions (e.g.,What do you think is under the box? Who do youthink ate the french fries? How do you think thelady caught the bug?) from normal children (aged2;10 to 4;6) and SLI children (aged 3;1 to 5;10).She found that SLI children were able to producelong distance wh-questions at the same age asnormal children, as young as 3 years 1 month.Unlike the normal children, some of the SLIchildren who produced these questions had not yetfully mastered verbal inflections, auxiliary andcopula verbs, and do-support, suggesting thattheir syntactic knowledge was more advancedthan their morphological knowledge.
There appear to be (at least) two differentphenomena to account for in SLI: the overall delayin language development (and thus, a delay in thefirst use of inflectional morphemes) and theprotracted period of time between first use andconsistent use of a particular inflection. The firstimplies a delay in the acquisition of grammaticalcompetence, the second, a further delay ingrammatical performance.
Possible Explanations of SLI
In attempting to explain SLI, severalresearchers have suggested that SLI childrensuffer a deficit in their innate linguistic knowledge
(Clahsen, 1989; Gopnik, 1990a; Gopnik, 1990b;Gopnik & Crago, 1991; Guilfoyle, Allen, & Moss,1991; Rice & Oetting, 1991).
Gopnik (1990a, 1990b) and Gopnik and Crago(1991) argued that the grammars of SLI individuals lack features such as aspect, number, genderand the mass/count distinction. In normal speakers, these features, with their phonological representations, are stored separately in the lexiconand added to words when appropriate. Gopnik argues that SLI individuals have no such features,and thus, must store both cat and cats, with no labelling of the -s as a plural marker. She arguesthat they learn morphologically complex items asunanalysed wholes on an item-by-item basis.
This view predicts that SLI children should notovergeneralize regular endings to irregular formsas normal children do (e.g., mans for men, drivedfor drove) since such a generalisation requires theknowledge of a number or tense feature and theproductive application of a rule to new words.Furthermore, SLI children should not be able tocomprehend inflections on nonsense words, sincethey would be unable to recognize the inflectionalmorpheme representing the feature plural and usea general morphological rule to comprehend theword. Gopnik's proposal implies that SLI childrenand adults have a deviant grammar due to adeficit in their innate linguistic endowment; theylack morphological features.
An alternative view, proposed by Leonard (1989)and Leonard, Sabbadini, Volterra & Leonard(1988), is that a deficit in the SLI children'sperception of the speech signal causes thelinguistic input to be filtered or distorted. Theyfound that Italian SLI children showed betterability with several inflectional morphemes thancomparable English SLI children and claim thatthis difference is due to the fact that, in Italianbut not English, the inflections are stressed,syllabic, and end in a vowel. Thus, they proposethat SLI children have difficulty in perceiving"low phonetic-substance morphemes" (the "surfaceaccount"). Low phonetic substance morphemes are"nonsyllabic consonant segments and unstressedsyllables, characterized by shorter duration thanadjacent morphemes, and, often, lowerfundamental frequency and amplitude," such asthe tense markers lsi and Idl in English. Leonard(1989) and Leonard et al. (1988) propose that thisperceptual deficit, combined with the difficulty ofbuilding grammatical paradigms (such as thosenecessary for tense marking), results in thedelayed acquisition of grammatical morphemes inEnglish SLI children. The "surface account" offers
Morplwlogy and Syntax in Language Impainnent 115
an account of cross-linguistic data as well as anexplanation of SLl children's difficulty with avariety of unstressed grammatical markers.
A perceptual deficit must necessarily affect theperception of non-morphophonemic low~phonetic
substance elements as well. Leonard proposes thatthis can account for production difficulties such asfinal consonant deletion and weak syllabledeletion which appear to occur more frequently inthe speech of 8Ll children than in normal childrenmatched for articulation ability (Ingram, 1981). Aperceptual deficit account, however, must be ableto explain how 8Ll children are neverthelesscapable of speech perception in general, sincemuch of the speech signal is unstressed and nonsyllabic.
The surface account predicts that SLl childrenwill have difficulty with the acquisition of passivestructures. Pinker (1984) proposes that childrenacquire these structures by using grammaticalmarkers (i.e., by) as structural cues. If suchgrammatical markers are low-phonetic substancemorphemes, Leonard points out, the acquisition ofthe passive will be problematic for SLI children asthey will be unable to correctly parse thestructure. Although there is some evidence thatpassives are difficult for 8Ll children (Menyuk &Looney, 1972), such a finding is not consistentwith the observations made above that syntax is arelative strength for SLl children.
Linguistic Analysis Hypothesis
The purpose of this paper is to explore anotherpossible account of the acquisition profile of 8LIchildren, specifically, the Linguistic AnalysisHypothesis. This suggests that 8Ll childrenreceive adequate linguistic input and have anintact grammatical mechanism but have difficultyanalysing the input so that it is available to thegrammatical mechanisms. According to this view,the difficulty with inflectional morphology couldbe due to difficulty analysing morphologicalstructure.
A deficit in linguistic analysis, specifically morphological analysis, could lead to two apparentlydifferent difficulties, both of which occur in the8Ll population: delayed "first use" (competence)and delayed consistent use (performance) of aninflectional morpheme. In order to learn an inflectional system, the child must first analyse wordsinto morphemes. Once the child has analysed themorphological elements and has learned therelevant grammatical system, she has attainedcompetence with that particular grammaticalstructure. Without adequate morphological anal-
ysis skills, the attainment of competence could bedelayed. Grammatical competence, however, doesnot lead immediately (if ever) to perfection inperformance. In order to produce the morpheme inquestion correctly 100% of the time, the childmust monitor her output, note when she has madean error, and correct the error (see Bowey, 1988;Clark, 1978; Marshall & Morton, 1978 forexamples of young children's spontaneous repairsand arguments that such repairs involve linguisticawareness/analysis). This is the second role oflinguistic analysis. A deficit in morphologicalanalysis would make the attainment of consistently correct morphological performance moredifficult.
These two roles of linguistic analysis bothrequire the analysis of words into morphemes;first, as an automatic process of languageacquisition, then as an on-line means ofcomparing productions to the internal grammar tocheck for accuracy. These skills can be consideredprimary linguistic activities, in the sense ofMattingly (1972). Such skills gradually becomeavailable to conscious introspection, providing thechild with more and more explicit insights intogrammatical structure. These same skills thatallow the child to analyse linguistic input andmonitor her own production can be applied to thespeech of others, leading to more overt, moremeta- linguistic analysis. Such overt analysisabilities develop into the skills necessary to dotasks less directly related to primary linguisticactivities which can then be applied to secondaryactivities such as reading and writing and,arguably, experimental tasks. The application oflinguistic analysis skills to secondary tasks mightbe fostered by exposure to and instruction in suchtasks, as in, for example, reading and writinginstruction.
Why might a child have difficulty inmorphological analysis? Morphological systemsare clearly specific to particular languages. Whilesome linguistic properties might indicategenerally what type of morphological systemexists in a language, the actual items must belearned by the child. It is difficult to imaginelinguistic universals that would guide languagespecific morphological analysis; no generallinguistic principIe will tell a child to look for finallsi in English as a morphological marker. Incontrast, it has been proposed that innateuniversal principles do guide the acquisition ofsyntax (Chomsky, 1981). Morphological analysis oflinguistic input might thus be more difficult thansyntactic analysis guided by the principles and
parameters of a Universal Grammar (such asoutlined by Chomsky, 1981, for example). Thus,811 children with linguistic analysis difficultiesmight be expected to have difficulty with theacquisition of idiosyncratic language-specificinformation, information that is stored in thelexicon.
Thus, it is hypothesized, first, that 811 childrenhave more difficulty in the acquisition of language-specific information than with theacquisition of structures subject to universallinguistic principles; and second, that thedifficulty with language specific structures is dueto a deficit in linguistic analysis skills. If this istrue, then 8LI children should demonstratenormal facility in the acquisition of a structuresubject to universal principles but demonstratedeficits in tasks requiring analysis ofmorphological structure.
Question 1: Development of Universal andLanguage-Specific Structures
In order to address question (1) and exploremore fully the possible difference between the acquisition of structures involving innate universalprinciples (e.g., syntax) and the acquisition ofmore language-specific properties (e.g., morphology), an investigation of the acquisition of agrammatical structure with both complex syntaxand complex morphology would be helpful. Thepassive structure in English meets this requirement.
In the principles and parameters framework(Chomsky, 1981), the syntax of the passiverequires knowledge of the universal principles ofcase theory, theta-theory and the formation ofargument chains (A-chains) (see Baker, Johnston,& Roberts, 1989; Borer & Wexler, 1987 fordetailed analyses). It will be assumed here thatthe subject noun phrase originates in objectposition, where it receives a theta-role, whichidentifies which grammatical relation it plays inthe sentence. The noun phrase also needs case,but cannot receive it in object position (because ofthe presence of the passive morphology, which issaid to absorb case). As a result, it must move tosubject position where it can receive case, therebyforming a passive sentence. Thus, in order toproduce a passive sentence, the child must knowthe requirements of case assignment, theta-roleassignment and be able to move noun phrasesfrom one argument position to another (argumentor A-movement).
Passives can be formed with get as well as be.While it has been argued that get passives have a
different syntactic structure than be passives, getpassives still require the knowledge of thetatheory, case theory and A-chains (Fox &Grodzinsky, 1992; Haegeman, 1985; Hoshi, 1991;Lasnik & Fiengo, 1974) and as such, are ofinterest in this study.
Passive constructions can be either verbal oradjectival in nature. It is the verbal, not theadjectival form of the passive which is of interestin this study, since only the verbal passiverequires the syntactic operation of A-movement(Borer & Wexler, 1987; Wasow 1977).. Thepresence of a by-phrase is one indicator of a verbalrather than an adjectival passive. However, verbalpassives may have, but do not have to have, a byphrase.
The morphological complexity of the passiveinvolves the multiple forms of the passiveinflection (ed or en) and possible vowel changes inthe stem (e.g., bite-bitten).
There has been some debate as to youngchildren's ability to produce passives. Truncatedpassives (i.e., passives without by-phrases) havebeen noted to occur more frequently than fullpassives (i.e., those with by-phrases) in theelicited and spontaneous speech of young children(Baldie, 1976, Horgan, 1977), leading some toclaim that full verbal passives are not produced byyoung children (Borer & Wexler, 1987). However,other researchers report full passives produced by3 to 5 year-oIds in elicited production tasks (Crain,Thornton and Murasugi (1987) and Crain andFodor (1993».
The exploration of the passive in 811 childrenhas also indicated difficulty with the structure.The literature reveals few examples of passives inthe speech of 8LI children. Leonard (1989)suggests that this is not due to the low frequencyof occurrence of passives, given that they doappear in the speech of normal children at anearly age (Pinker, Lebeaux, & Frost, 1987).Menyuk and Looney (1972) found that 8LIchildren performed more poorly on the repetitionof passive sentences than a group of normalchildren matched on receptive vocabulary andtended to omit grammatical morphemes such as isand by in their repetitions.
Given the results of the above studies, anelicited production paradigm is the most appropriate technique for this study. It is most practicalto study the child's expression rather than comprehension, since it would be difficult to differentiate between the comprehension of the passivemorphology versus the passive syntax. Elicitedproduction avoids the difficulty of the low fre-
Morphology and Sl(!!tax in Language Impairment 117
quency of passive constructions in spontaneousspeech and allows for the collection of an adequateamount of data for analysis. Furthermore, it reduces the difficulty of distinguishing between theverbal or adjectival nature of the children's productions. In order to be confident that the childrenare producing true verbal passives, full passiveswith by-phrases should be elicited whenever possible. In the event that by-phrases are not alwayselicited, a carefully constructed elicitation protocolwill aid in the analysis. A truncated passive canbe interpreted as a verbal passive if it is producedin response to a situation in which a verbal passive and not an adjectival passive is the appropriate response. The proposal that SLI children suffer deficits only in the acquisition of language-specific information will be supported if the SLI children demonstrate proficiency with the syntax ofverbal passives, implying the presence of a syntactic form of the passive inflection, while they continue to have difficulty with the morphologicalproperties of the passive.
Question 2: Development of LinguisticAnalysis Skills
In order to address question (2) and investigatethe hypothesis that SLI children suffer from adeficit in linguistic (morphological) analysis skillsa thorough investigation of morphological analysistasks with a range of difficulty is required.Previous research has indicated that normalchildren develop linguistic analysis skills at ayoung age and that these continue to develop asthe child grows older (Clark, 1978). Normalchildren have been shown to be able to analysephonological and morphological structure ingrammaticality judgment tasks as early as 3 to 5years of age (Smith-Lock & Rubin, 1993). SLIchildren have shown varying success, performingthe same as language-matched' peers in somestudies (Rubin, Kantor, & Macnab, 1990) anddifferently from language-matched peers in others(Kamhi & Koenig, 1985).
Standard metalinguistic analysis tasks, such asthe judgment task, require explicit understandingof linguistic form. However, tasks with lessexplicit analysis requirements must be developedin order to tap skills that are more closely relatedto the analysis required in the initial learning ofinflectional systems. The linguistic analysisassociated with primary language acquisitionappears to occur in a very automatic fashion.Thus, tasks which allow the child to use theprimary language system automatically should bethe easiest. Tasks should increase in difficulty to
the extent that they require explicit analysis ofthe primary linguistic system.
The Normal Control Group: LanguageMatching
The syntactic and morphological skills of normaland sLI children should be compared in groupsmatched for language abilities. While a differencein performance between SLI and age-matchedpeers would be of interest, indicating thatlinguistic analysis skills are tied to expressivelanguage ability rather than non-linguisticcognitive development, the comparison of mostinterest is SLI versus normal children of the samelanguage level. Only by comparing languagematched groups can it be determined whether theSLI children have a deficit in morphologicalanalysis abilities over and above what would beexpected on the basis of their primary languagedeficit. As well, language-matching will allow forthe comparison of the development of variouscomponents of the grammar in children matchedon one of the components.
The method of language matching is critical tothe study. Matching on the basis of expressiverather than receptive language seems most appropriate, since the ability to manipulate morphological structure consciously would likely requireexpressive knowledge of the structure. The children should be matched on their spontaneousspeech, since formal testing removes the childfrom the realm of spontaneous and automatic output, and therefore, might introduce linguisticanalysis skills into the task. Mean length of utterance (MLD) is one possible measure of languagedevelopment using spontaneous speech. However,MLD does not provide information regarding whattype of structures are used, thus it is not possibleto distinguish between an MLD based on grammatically simple but lengthy utterances and onebased on grammatically complex utterances.Therefore, the possibility of matching childrenwith different linguistic skills is significant.Furthermore, the correlation of MLD with grammatical development decreases in the later stagesof language acquisition (Scarborough, Rescorla,Tager-Flusberg, Fowler, & Sudhalter, 1991).Thus, MLD is not the most appropriate matchingtechnique.
Given the relatively consistent order of acquisition of grammatical morphemes noted by Brown(1973), children who have acquired a particularmorpheme can be assumed to have attained thesame level of grammatical (morphological) development. Thus, if only children who use the regular
Judgment and correction of morphologicalerrors
This task involved the use of a puppet who mademorphological errors in his speech. Children wereasked to judge, identify and repair these errors. Asemantic judgment task was used as anintroduction in order to familiarize the child withjudgment tasks. This task also offered a means ofhighlighting the distinction between semantic andmorphological judgments so as to reduce thelikelihood that the children would make semanticjudgments in the morphological task.
In the semantic task, the child was told thatErnie was a funny puppet and that he said sillythings, things that just weren't true. Exampleswere provided in which the puppet called the experimenter by the wrong name and the experimenter identified the error and corrected the puppet. The puppet then called the child by the wrongname and the child was invited to correct thepuppet. The child and the experimenter thenacted out a story, agreed on a verbal description ofwhat had happened, then asked the puppet tocomment. The puppet's comment involved thesubstitution of an object noun (e.g., "Barbie ate acookie" for "Barbie ate a pizza"), a subject noun(e.g., "The man went for a run" for "The lady wentfor a run") or a verb (e.g., "The man drank thefrench fries" for "The man ate the french fries") ina sentence. The same judgment, identification andrepair protocol was used for the semantic andmorphological tasks, and is outlined below.
In the morphological task, a different puppet,Bert, was introduced as a puppet who was notsilly, unlike Ernie. It was explained that everything Bert said was true but that he said thingsthe wrong way sometimes and that he wantedhelp to say things the right way. The child and theexperimenter then acted out a story, agreed on averbal description of what had happened, thenasked the puppet to comment. 50% of the puppet'scomments were grammatically correct and 50%involved the omission of an inflectional morpheme(e.g., "The boy has lots of toy"). The child was thenasked
(1) Did he say it the right way or the wrong way?(judgment)
(2) What was the wrong part? (identification)(3) Can you fix it? (repair)
Mter each trial, feedback was provided to thechild. If the child responded correctly to all threequestions she was told that she was right. If thechild made an error on any of the three questions,
the correct answer was explained. The item wasrepeated until the child responded correctly to allthree questions, to a maximum of three trials. Anexample of the protocol can be seen below.
(i) story: Barbie eats 2 cookies.(ii) experimenter (E) to the child (C): what did
Barbie eat?C: 2 cookies
(iii) E to the puppet: Bert, what did Barbie eat?(iv) puppet: 2 cookie(v) E to C: was that right or wrong?(vi) C: right
(vii) E to C: I think it was wrong beCause he said2 cookie instead of 2 cookies. (emphasis onIs!). She ate two, so he should have saidcookies., not cookie.
(viii) repeat to a total of three times, if necessary
The errors consisted of the omission of plural,possessive or past tense morphemes. For each ofthese inflectional morphemes, two phrases andone full sentence were included, for a total of nineitems with errors. Nine parallel constructionswithout errors were included. All of the stems taking inflections ended in vowels so that when theywere inflected the word ended in a single consonant, the voiced allomorph ([z] or Cd]). This Wasdone in order to simplify the phonological demands of analysing consonant clusters. In addition, two verbs which the child overgeneralized inthe language screening were included. Theseverbs varied for each child.
The morphological judgment task requiredmuch more than the automaticity of spontaneousspeech. It reqUired the child to examine anutterance and consider the appropriateness of thelinguistic form outside of the communicativeintent. It required explicit knowledge of thegrammatical constructions involved and theconditions for their use.
This task was identical to the judgment tasksoutlined above, except that the child was asked tobe the puppet. In the semantic task, the child wastold to talk silly like Ernie. In the morphologicaltask, she was told to say things wrong, like Bert.The experimenter then acted out a story andcommented on it, providing a phrase or sentencefor the child to manipulate. In the semantic taskthe child was asked to manipulate the sentenc~The man walked home. In the morphological task,the child was asked to make errors on two pluralphrases, two possessive phrases and two pasttense verbs.
Morphology and Syntax in Language Impairment 121
This task had the highest morphological analysis demands. In the morphological task, the childhad to explicitly understand the morphologicalstructure of the word. She had to know exactlywhat a morpheme was and exactly how it wasmanipulated in the judgment task in order to besuccessful in this task.Elicitation ofpassive sentences
This task was included to investigate thedissociation of the acquisition of morphology andsyntax, in order to determine whether thesyntactic components of the passive were acquiredbefore the morphological components.
Passive sentences were elicited from thechildren using a story-telling task, similar to theelicited production technique used by Crain,Thornton, and Murasugi (1987). A story, in whichtwo agents acted upon two patients, was acted outwith toys (e.g., a dog chased a pig and a cat chaseda horse). The child was asked what happened toone of the characters in the story (e.g., "whathappened to the pig?", "what happened to thehorse?"). The expected response was a passivestructure (e.g., "the pig was chased by the dog","the horse was chased by the cat"). Ten suchstories were used, each with two different passiveeliciting questions. Passives were elicited for thefollowing verbs: lick, bite, fly, ride, eat, take,chase, drive, chop, throw. Prompting wassometimes necessary to elicit the passive. In sucha case, the experimenter started the sentence withthe passive subject and then stopped (e.g., "Whathappened to the pig? The pig..."). This strategyindicated to the child that she was to start thesentence with the passive subject and wasfrequently, but not always, successful in eliciting apassive construction.
Procedures. Each child was tested individuallyin a quiet room in their preschool or elementaryschool. They were seen for a total of three or foursessions approximately 30 to 45 minutes inlength. The language screening was administeredfirst. At each session, an attempt was made toelicit the passive. If no passive structures wereelicited with the first three items, the task wasdiscontinued, other tasks administered and thetask was then attempted again at the next session. If no passives had been elicited after threesessions, no further attempts were made. Theremaining tasks were administered in varyingorder (depending on the time available) exceptthat the picture tasks were always administeredin one session, in the order real word expression,comprehension, non-word expression. All of the
tasks, with the exception of the comprehensiontask, were recorded on audiotape and latertrans". ~bed.
Sentence completion tasksResponses in both the sentence completion tasks
were scored as correct or incorrect. In order to beconsidered correct, the response had to containboth the correct verb and the correct inflection.Use of a different verb with the correct inflectionwas considered an error in this scoring system.Scoring the data by crediting all correctinflections, regardless of verb, improved scores inboth groups, but the relationship between thegroups remained the same. Therefore, the originalscoring system was maintained. Incorrectresponses were further classified as omission ofthe correct inflection, a repetition of the inflectionused in the stimUlus sentence, or as anotherincorrect inflection. In the real word task, themean score for the SLI group was 6.48 out of 15(S = 3.11), and for the LM group, 6.69 (S = 3.03).Performance on the non-word task was lower: 4.29out of 15 (S =3.04) for the SLI group and 4.56 (S =3.31) for the LM group.
A two-way analysis of variance with one between groups factor (diagnosis: SLI and languagematched (LM» and one repeated measure (task:real word, non-word) showed no significant difference between the groups (F < 1), a significant difference between tasks (F(1,31) = 28.49, p <.001)and no interaction (F < 1). Thus, the SLI groupperformed the same as their language-matchedpeers. The real word sentence completion task wassignificantly easier than the non-word task.
The results of the error analysis can be seen inTable 1. A two-way analysis of variance with onebetween group factor (diagnosis: SLI, LM) and onerepeated measure (task: real word, non-word) wasperformed for both repetition and omission errors.There was a significant difference in the numberof repetition errors between the real and non-wordtasks (PO,31) = 45.34, p < 0.001) but nosignificant group difference (F < 1) and nosignificant interaction (FO,31) = 3.69, p > .05).With omission errors, there was no significanttask effect (FCl,31) = 0.94, p > .05), no significantgroup effect (F(1,31) = 2.9, p > .05) and nosignificant interaction (FO,31) = 0.01, p > .05).Thus, the LM and SLI children made the samenumber and type of errors, with more repetitionerrors occurring in the non-word task than thereal word task.
Table 1. Real word and non-word sentence completion.Mean number of repetition and omission errors(standard deviation in brackets).
Repetition Omissionreal word non-word real word non-word
LM group 2.5 5.4 1.57 1.2(2.18) (3.52) (1.60) (1.86)
SLI group 2.23 6.47 2.53 2.12(2.31) (3.43) (2.85) (1.87)
Comprehension of Inflected Non~Words
The comprehension task had a maximum scoreof 10. Since the response required a choicebetween two options, a score of five indicatedchance performance. The LM group received amean score of 5.69 (S = 1.58) and the SLI group,6.29 (S = 1.9). A one-group t-test indicated thatthe performance of LM group did not differsignificantly from chance (t(l5) = 1.74, P > .05)while the performance of the SLI children did(t(16) = 2.81, P < .05). Nevertheless, a comparisonof the two groups showed no significant differencein performance between the SLI and LM children(t(31) = -0.10, P > .05).
Subjective data from the test administrationindicated that performance on this task was "all ornone." In other words, the children either figuredit out or they guessed. Those children who figuredit out generally did so during the training sessionsand often spontaneously commented on theirdiscovery of how to do the task (e.g., "I heardyou say pash and that's one pash"). When askedafterwards how they decided the right answer,some of the children who had done well explainedthat the examiner had told them to point to oneor two (e.g., "1 just heard 2-2-1-2"), while mostof the unsuccessful children said they hadguessed, or alternated between the top and bottompicture.
If those children who received a score of 8 orhigher are considered to have understood the task,(the majority of children received a score within 2points of the chance score (5 ± 2», one child in theLM group (SW, 4;0) and four children in the SLIgroup (MQ, 5;10, kindergarten; MD, 6:8, grade 1;BE, 6;5, grade 1 and TK, 6;9, grade 1) could do thetask. It is interesting to note that three of the fourSLI children who could do the task were in gradeone and, therefore, had had reading and writinginstruction.
Judgment TaskChildren received a score on the basis of the
number of incorrect stimulus items identified asincorrect. The nine test items yielded a maximumscore of nine for each of judgments, identificationsand repairs, for each of the three trials. Scoringwas cumulative, so that if a child scored correctlyon trial 1 and therefore did not receive trials 2 and3, she received credit for the correct response inthe score of trials 2 and 3. Thus, a score of7 out of9 correct judgments on trial 3 indicates that, bytrial 3, the child had made 7 correct judgments.She may have responded correctly to 2 items ontrial 1 (yielding a trial 1 score of 2), 3 items ontrial 2 (yielding a trial 2 score of 5) and 2 items ontrial 3 (yielding a trial 3 score of 7). In order topreserve this type of information each trial wasanalysed separately, rather than examining onlytrial 3, or creating a composite score based on all 3trials. Judgments of correct items were notincluded.
A correct judgment was considered a response of"wrong" to the question "Did Bert say it right orwrong?" A correct identification was consideredthe repetition of the entire phrase or sentence,with the error, or the repetition of the erroneousword. A correct repair was considered therepetition of the erroneous word, phrase orsentence, with the error corrected. An example ofa typical response can be seen below.
stimulus: "The lady dress is white."judgment: wrong
identification: "The lady dress is white" or "the ladydress."
repair: "The lady's dress is white" or "thelady's dress."
The results can be seen in Table 2 and Figure 1.In order to compare the performance of the SLIand LM groups, a two-way analysis of variancewas performed, with one between-groups factor(diagnosis: SLI, LM) and one repeated measure(task: judgment, identification, repair). There wasno significant effect for group on any of the trials(trial 1: F < 1; trial 2: F < 1; trial 3: F < 1). Therewas a significant effect of task, for all three trials(trial 1: F(2,31) = 47.5, p < 0.001; trial 2: F(2,31) =30.94, P < 0.001; trial 3: F(2,31) = 32.54, P <0.001). There were no interactions (trial 1: F < 1;trial 2: F < 1; trial 3: F(2,62) = 1.79,p > .05). Thus,the SLI group performed in the same way as theirlanguage-matched peers.
Morphology and Syntax in Language Impairment 123
To determine the extent of improvement overthe three trials, a two-way analysis of variancewas performed, with one between-groups factor(diagnosis) and one within-groups factor (trial), forjudgments, identifications and repairs. There wasa significant improvement over trials for judgments (F(2,31) == 63.15, P < 0.001), identifications(F(2,31) = 60.85, p < 0.001) and repairs (F(2,31) =66.19, P < 0.001). There were no significant interactions between group and trial for judgments(F(2,62) = 1.86, p > .05) or identifications (F < 1).There was a significant interaction for repairs(F(2,62) = 4.80, P < 0.01). Thus, both the normaland the SLI groups improved over trials. Forrepairs, the SLI group improved more over trialsthan the normal group.
The children had two opportunities to judgetheir own overgeneralizations. Examination oftheir responses indicated that children almostalways accepted their own production as correct.92% of overgeneralizations were accepted by theLM group and 82% were accepted by the SLIgroup. No one was able to correct her ownovergeneralization error.
Child-generated errorsA correct response to this task required the child
to omit the inflectional morpheme from the stimulus item provided. For example, the correct response to "two eyes" was "two eye." Phonologicalchanges ("two byes") and semantic changes ("oneeye") were considered incorrect. A child receivedone point for each correct response, for a possibletotal of 6. The SLI group received a mean score of1.76 (S = 2.28). The LM group received a meanscore of 0.69 (S = 1.35). The groups' performancedid not differ significantly (l(31) = -1.64, P > .05).This task was quite difficult for all the children. Aqualitative analysis of the responses indicatedthat 57% of the LM and 34% of the SLI responsesinvolved no change to the stimulus item, 24% ofthe LM and 22% of the SLI group's responses weresemantic changes, 6% of the LM and 14% of theSLI responses were phonological changes and 12%of the LM and 31% of the SLI responses weremorphological changes. Thus, although non-significant, differences do exist, with the SLI childrenbeing more able to create morphological changesthan the younger LM children. This may reflectthe analytic ability gained through reading andwriting instruction that the SLI, but not the LMchildren, have received (due to further years ofschooling).
Elicitation of Passive SentencesPassive constructions were elicited from the
majority of the children in the study. All of the
trial 29 ...----------------,87
trial 39.,..-------- --.876
Table 2. Judgment task. Mean correct (out of 9)(standard deviation in brackets).
judgment identification repair
SLI LM SLI LM SLI LM
trial 1 5.29 5.88 2.94 3.00 3.77 4.00(1.53) (1.86) (2.08) (2.53) (1.92) (1.86)
trial 2 7.65 7.32 4.65 4.38 6.41 5.38(1.41 ) (1.62) (2.74) (3.05) (2.0) (2.66)
trial 3 8.12 8.19 5.41 5.25 7.24 6.06(1.22) (1.38) (2.53) (3.15) (2.08) (2.29)
Figure 1. Judgment task.
SLI children produced passives, with a mean of 15per child. 59% of these children (10 out of 17)produced full passives with prepositional phrases.In the LM group, 12 out of 16 children producedpassives, with a mean of 11 per child. 42% (5 outof 12) of the children produced full passives. Thus,both groups were able to productively generatesyntactically correct passive structures. Nosyntactic errors were noted. If children failed toproduce a passive sentence, they produced anactive equivalent. Almost all of the passiveselicited were got-passives, although some bepassives were elicited. Examples of the children'sproductions can be seen below.
(1) he got licked by a tiger (MK, 7;3, SLI)(2) it got taken by the man (AG, 6;11, SLI)(3) it got eaten by the big horse (SW, 4;1, LM)(4) it got pushed down by the girl (MW, 4;2, LM)(5) it's gonna be ride (lC, 5;4, SLI)(6) (the fries) was eated (JP, 4;1, LM)(7) it got licked by the horse (AG, 6.11, SLI)(8) it got chased by the dog (AG, 6.11, SLI)(9) he got chopped off (AM, 3; 11, LM)
(10) the two babies got licked (KM, 3; 11, LM)
Prepositional errors occurred in both groups.from was substituted for by in 23 cases (28%) inthe SLI group and 3 cases (9%) in the normalgroup. with was substituted for by in 3 cases inthe SLI group.
(11) the tree got knocked over from the baby (!P, 6;0,SLI)
(12) he got eaten from Mickey (AM, 3,11, LM)(13) he got licked with the pig (AP, 7;2, SLI)
Morphological errors were common in bothgroups. The errors took a variety of formsincluding the incorrect use of -ed, -en, both orneither, combined with either a present or pasttense stem. The use of the present or irregularpast form as the stem was not associated withwhether or not the correct form contained a vowelchange. Examples of the error types can be seen inTable 3. The frequency of each type ofmorphological response can be found in Table 4.All tokens of the passive were included in thiscalculation, including repeated productions. TheSLI and LM groups, for the most part, used thevarious morphological forms with similarfrequency. However, the LM children tended touse forms with the past stem more often than theSLI children.
Table 3. Morphological error types in passiveelicitation.
stem only:(1) he got chase around (lG, 5;9, SLI)(2) it got ride by the baby (MW, 4;2, LM)
stem + ed:(3) he got bited from the horse (MD. 6;8, SLI)(4) it got eated (SW, 4;0, LM)
stem + ed + ed :(5) it got throweded and this one got throweded
(JM, 6;7, SLI)(6) the car got driveded (CG, 3;11, LM)
stem + en:(7) (he) got chasen by that (MW, 4;2. LM)(8) it got drive-en (BE, 6;5. SU)
stem+ed+en:(9) he got chaseden (BE, 6;5. SLI)
(10) it got throweden (BE, 6;5, SLI)stem + en + ed:
(11) the hotdog got eatened up (IP, 6;0, SLI)(12) it got eatened (MW, 4;2, LM)
past stem:(13) (the ball) gotted took (MK, 7;3, SLI)(14) it got rode on (SW, 4;0, LM)
past + ed:(15) it got ated from the boy (HB, 5;4, SLI)(16) it got tooked (DM, 4;0, LM)
past + ed + ed :(17) the car got stoleded (MQ, 5; 10, SLI)
past + en:(18) it got droven from Mickey Mouse (HB, 5;4,
SLI)(19) both of them got aten up (KH, 4;2, LM)
past + ed + en :(20) the ball got stoleden (MQ, 5;10, SLI)(21) it got stoleden (KH, 4;2, LM)
past + en + ed :(22) it got tookened from the boy (HR, 5;4, SLI)(23) it got atened (DM, 4;0, LM)
Table 4. Frequency ofmorphological responses (%) inpassive elicitation.
group correct stem stem stem past past past other
+0 +cd +en +0 +ed +en
LM 39.49 9.24 22.69 0.08 2.52 5.88 12.61 6.72
SLi 41.92 10.00 26.92 3.00 1.15 3.85 2.31 10.39
Individual subject data demonstrated patternsof oed and -en usage. The children could be classified as predominantly ed -users, predominantly en-users, or mixed oed and -en. A child was considered a mixed oed and en-user if she used bothendings more than once in the task. A child was
Morphology and Syntax in LanK1Y!ge Impairment 125
Table 5. Patterns ofpassive morpheme use.
Summary of ResultsThe SLI and LM groups were both capable of
producing passive syntax without error, but mademany errors with passive morphology. The groupsdid not differ significantly on the morphologicalanalysis tasks.
The results of the first experiment indicated nodifference in the performance of the SLI andlanguage-matched normal groups. In order tocompare the performance of the SLI children withage-matched peers and to confirm that they wereperforming at a lower level than might beexpected for their age, a second experiment wasconducted.
Subjects. Sixteen normal children were includedin this experiment. They ranged in age from 5;7 to6;5, with a mean age of 6;0. The children met allthe same criteria outlined for the subjects in thefirst experiment , with the exception that onlychildren who overgeneralized on less than 5 out of10 of the verbs in the language screening wereincluded. The children in this study did not differsignificantly in age (t(31) = 0.872, p > .05) fromthe SLI group in Experiment 1,
Tasks and procedures. The same tasks andprocedures were used in this study as wereoutlined for Experiment 1.
Sentence completion tasksThe same scoring procedure was used as was
outlined for Experiment 1. The AM group receiveda score of 10. 25 out of 15 correct (S = 2.21) on thereal word task and 6.5 (S = 2.56) on the non-wordtask, compared to the SLI performance of 6.48 (S= 3.11) on the real word task and 4.29 (S = 3.04)on the non-word task. A two-way analysis ofvariance with one between groups factor(diagnosis: SLI and age-matched (AM» and onerepeated measure (task: real word, non-word) indicated a significant difference in performance between the SLI and age-matched (AM) groups(F(l, 31) = 12.30, P <.001), a significant differencein performance on words versus non-words, (F(l,31) = 43.87, P <.001) and no significant interaction(F(l,31) = 3.14, P > .05). Thus, the SLI groupperformed significantly worse than their agematched peers. The real word sentence completiontask was significantly easier than the non-wordtask.
The results of the error analysis can be found inTable 6. In order to compare the number ofrepetition errors made by each group in the realword and non-word tasks, a two-way analysis ofvariance with one between groups factor(diagnosis: AM, SLI) and one within groups factor(task: real word, non-word) was performed. Therewas a significant effect for task (F(1,31) = 97.48,p < 0.001), but no effect for group (F(1,3l) = 0.45,p > .05) and no significant interaction (F(l,31) =1.61, p > .05). A similar analysis of the omissionerrors found a significant effect for group (F(l,31)= 9.58, p < 0.01), but no effect for task (F < 1) andno significant interaction (F(1,31) = 1.97, p > .05).Thus, the SLI children made the same number ofrepetition errors, but significantly more omissionerrors than their age-matched peers. There was no
( 9) he got riden too(10) he got takeden(II) it got taken too(12) it got drivened (drive+ened)(13) it got driven (drive+en) too(14) he got knocked down(15) it got throweden
( 6) it got droved( 7) it got knocked down( 8) it got rided( 9) it got chased
ed -user (CG, 3;11, LM)
( 1) it got bite( 2) you got licked( 3) it got atened(4) it got tooked( 5) it got throwed
Mixed (BE, 6;5, SLI)
( I) he got licked( 2) he got lick( 3) he got bited( 4) he got flied over( 5) he got squished( 6) it got ated... eaten( 7) it got eaten too( 8) he got chaseden
still considered an en-user if she produced theregular ed verbs correctly. In the SLI group, 9children were ed -users and 5 children weremixed. That is, children either used oed for all enverbs, or used a mixture of oed and -en. None used-en on all the verbs requiring it. 3 children did notprovide enough data for analysis. In the LMgroup, 4 children were ed -users and 3 childrenwere mixed. Again, no children always used -enwhen appropriate. 8 children did not provideenough data for analysis. While the children usedmost regular oed forms correctly, two of the 'mixed'children (one SLI and one LM) used -en in place ofthe correct oed. Thus, both overgeneralization ofoed to -en verbs and overgeneralization of -en tooed verbs occurred. In cases where both -en andoed were added to a stem, they were not alwaysadded in the same order. Both -eden and -enedwere produced by some children. Examples of eachpattern can be seen in Table 5.
It must be noted that, due to the exclusionarycriteria for the diagnosis of 8Ll, the 8Ll population might be a heterogeneous group. 8uch heterogeneity might account for the contradictoryfindings of the various studies of 8L1.Nevertheless, the 8LI children in this study didnot appear to differ qualitatively from the 8Llchildren referred for but not included in the study,at least to the extent of their screening performance. The lack of difference between the 8Ll andthe normal controls in this study as opposed toothers might be attributed to the use of a more accurate language matching procedure. However,the generalisation of findings based on a languagematched rather than a randomly selected sample,must be made with caution.
CONCLUSIONThe results of these studies indicate that 8Ll
children suffer from a selective delay in the acquisition of inflectional morphology. They demonstrated no difficulty in the acquisition of a complexsyntactic structure, but made many errors withthe complex morphology of the same structure.The principles of Universal Grammar examined inthese studies (case theory, theta-theory andargument-chains) were intact in the 8Ll children.Linguistic delay rather than deviance wassupported by the fact that the performance of the8LI children on elicited production and on tasks ofmorphological analysis could not be distinguishedfrom that of younger normal children. It appearsthat linguistic analysis skills develop hand inhand with primary language skills, both in normaland 8Ll children. The finding that children withequal performance abilities have equal analysisskills is consistent with the proposal that linguistic analysis skills playa role in the attainment ofconsistent linguistic performance (through on-linemonitoring of production), if not in the attainmentof grammatical competence.
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FOOTNOTESt Also University of ConnecticutI Mean length of utterance is calculated by counting the number ofmorphemes in a spontaneous speech sample and dividing by thenumber of utterances, to determine the average number ofmorphemes per utterance. It is a rough indicator of linguisticdevelopment (Brown, 1973).
2This child used plural, possessive, present (third person singular)and past tense inconsistently in spontaneous speech. In spite ofhis inconsistent use of the regular past tense, he overgeneralisedon two out of the ten screening verbs, indicating that "first use"might be a more appropriate measure of acquisition than"consistent use".
30ne child was unable for testing on the passive task.41 am grateful to Ignatius Mattingly for this suggestion.51 am grateful to Mamoru Saito for this suggestion.
. d*age acgUlre
*Age at which 80% of children have acquired irregular past tense (Shipley, Maddox, & Driver, 1991)
Morphology and Syntax in Umguage Impainnent
Characteristics of SLI Children Included in the Study
The screening score is the number of incorrect irregular verb forms the child used in the screeningtask. Repeated attempts that resulted in use of both correct and incorrect forms were omitted from thisscore. Repeated attempts have, however, been included in the calculation of the number ofovergeneralized and uninflected stems. Thus, the total of the overgeneralizations plus uninflected stemsmight be higher than the screening scOre. Spontaneous productions of irregular verbs not in thescreening protocol were not included.
child age screening score overgeneralization uninflected stem
AP 7;2 6 2 5IP 6;0 6 5 1CJ 5;4 7 5 2BE 6;5 8 4 4MK 7;3 6 4 2JH 5;7 6 2 5JG 5;9 6 8 1RZ 5;9 6 3 2KG 6;0 6 5 1JC 5;4 6 5 1TK 6;9 6 7 0MQ 5;10 7 5 2HB 5;4 7 6 1AG 6;11 6 7 1MD 6;8 5 3 2JM 6;7 5 2 3SC 5;11 8 2 6
Characteristics of LM Children
child age screening score overgeneralization uninflected stem
MW 4;2 5 8 0PR 3;11 6 3 3JP 4;1 9 4 5SW 4;1 7 5 5KM 3;11 6 4 2DC 4;5 5 2 3AT 3;11 6 6 1DM 4;1 6 3 3AM 3;11 5 5 1AF 4;2 6 4 2KH 4;2 5 3 2SW 4;0 5 1 4CG 3;11 7 5 3BM 3;4 8 5 3AB 4;1 8 5 3LS 4;3 6 5 2