Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade de São Paulo
University of Delaware
Brooklyn College, City University of New York
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Purpose: This study examined the comprehension of sentences with predicates and reflexives that are linked to a non-adjacent noun as a test of the Hierarchical Ordering Deficit Hypothesis (HOD). That hypothesis and more modern versions posit that children with Specific Language Impairment have difficulty in establishing non-adjacent (hierarchical) relations among elements of a sentence. It also tested whether additional working memory (WM) demands in constructions containing reflexives affected the extent to which children with SLI incorrectly structure sentences as indicated by their picture-pointing comprehension responses.
Method: Sixteen Brazilian Portuguese-speaking children (8;4–10;6) with SLI and 16 children with typical language development (TLD) matched for age (±3 months), gender, and socioeconomic status participated in two experiments (Predicate and Reflexive interpretation). In the Reflexive Experiment, we also manipulated WM demands. Each experiment involved a four choice picture selection sentence comprehension task.
Results: Children with SLI were significantly less accurate on all conditions. Both groups made more hierarchical syntactic construction errors in the long as compared to the short WM condition.
Conclusion: The HOD hypothesis was not confirmed. For both groups, syntactic factors (structural assignment) were more vulnerable than lexical factors (prepositions) to WM effects in sentence miscomprehension.
KEY WORDS: specific language impairment, syntax, structural assignment, working memory, children