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The use of cohesive devices by school-age language impaired children Ruthven, Lucille Katherine


Frequency and distribution of cohesive devices used in the narrative discourse of six language impaired and six normal language children aged 9;1 to 11;8 were investigated in order to gain a greater understanding of the discourse difficulties experienced by language impaired children. Reference, substitution/ellipsis, conjunction, and lexical cohesion were analyzed using an adaptation of Halliday & Hasan's (1976) description of cohesion in English. Discourse reference was further investigated using 1) retrieval analysis (Martin 1977, 1983), 2) form/function analysis (Bamberg 1987) and 3) sentence position analysis. The data analyzed for the present report consisted of three stories told by each child (a total of thirty-six stories), which were obtained on the following tasks: 1) picture book narration, 2) retell of the same story without pictures, and 3) video recall. Language impaired children used significantly fewer cohesive devices per utterance than normal language children, a finding that appeared to be related to shorter utterance length on the part of language impaired children, fewer attempts on their part to provide cohesive links (particularly lexical ones), and a greater number of failed cohesion attempts. Retrieval analysis revealed a greater use of anaphoric and esphoric reference (forward reference within the nominal group) by normal language children than by language impaired children. Results of the form/function analysis indicated that the language impaired children used more definite (versus indefinite) forms to introduce participants, more pronominals to switch reference, and more nominals to maintain reference than the normal language children. The referential devices of both groups of children varied as a function of the protagonist; both groups showed evidence of a thematic subject strategy. Task differences tended to hold for one group or the other, suggesting that the two groups were responding differently to changes in contextual configuration. The findings suggest that the difficulty faced by language impaired children in the realm of discourse may not only be the general one of discovering a systematic relationship between discourse-sensitive forms and their functions, but also that of discovering appropriate form-function pairings specific to a given context. The results underline the importance of discourse analysis to clinical assessment and intervention.

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