UBC Theses and Dissertations
Language learning in school-age children O’Hara, Margaret
This research investigated syntactic bootstrapping -- a process presumed to facilitate the acquisition of language knowledge -- in children with specific language impairment (SLI). This process involves the use of syntactic information to learn new verbs. Six SLI children (mean CA 7;9) were matched on grammatical comprehension abilities to six younger children with normal language (NL) development (mean CA 6;2). Sentences containing novel verbs were presented orally by the examiner to the children. The children demonstrated interpretation of the sentences in an object manipulation procedure. The experiment was designed to determine if the level of syntactic knowledge, as measured by grammatical comprehension, accounted for syntactic bootstrapping performance. A grammatical judgment task also tested the connection between syntactic bootstrapping and metalinguistic awareness. The results indicate that young school-age SLI children cannot predict new verb meanings from syntactic frameworks. Although data support previous findings (van der Lely, 1994), methodological adjustments made in the present study clearly justify claims made about the nature of syntactic bootstrapping. Data are interpreted as evidence that a group difference in syntactic bootstrapping is not the result of a deficit in syntactic knowledge, but rather due to other processes. Evidence was found that supports a relationship between syntactic bootstrapping and metalinguistic awareness. Interpretations were made considering an underlying process related to syntactic analysis that may explain the syntactic bootstrapping and metalinguistic connection, and perhaps ultimately the slower language learning overall of SLI children.
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