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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Updating skills and character referencing in children with specific language impairment Frick, Jillian Melissa


Specific language impairment (SLI) involves unexpected delays in language development that are deemed primary, rather than secondary to other developmental issues. This study investigated executive functioning and referencing abilities in children with SLI. Referencing is a complex task that may particularly depend on working memory (WM) resources, specifically in terms of updating abilities. Updating entails the active manipulation of WM contents by replacing older information with newer and more relevant information. If both linguistic abilities and processing resources are critical for adequate referencing, then children with SLI would be particularly vulnerable in this area. There is limited evidence regarding updating skills in children, referencing abilities in SLI, and the possible influence of updating on language production. A group of 12 children with SLI aged 5 to 8 years were matched to 12 same-age typically developing (TD) peers. The children completed updating, short-term memory (STM), and story-telling tasks. Compared to the children with TD, the children with SLI performed significantly poorer on all updating tasks and also consistently exhibited lower overall referential adequacy, but whether this applied to both nominal and pronominal forms depended on the story. There were also many parallels, however, between the groups in terms of referencing. Specifically, each group responded similarly to story differences and to the demands of the various referential functions (introduction, maintenance, and reintroduction) in terms of the frequency of character references, the referential types selected, and patterns of referential adequacy. Regarding the relationship between WM and referencing, visual STM was the only memory task that correlated significantly with referential adequacy in the SLI group. In contrast, updating did correlate significantly with referential adequacy in the TD group. It is still possible that updating plays a role in the ability to adequately refer to characters in both groups, but this relationship could be mediated or overshadowed by limitations in basic storage capacity or by linguistic factors for children with SLI in this developmental window. Due to the small number of participants in this study, the results regarding the relationship between updating abilities and referential adequacy are tentative and require replication with a larger sample.

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