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Br J Educ Psychol. 2013 Sep;83(Pt 3):521-34. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8279.2012.02078.x. Epub 2012 Sep 25.

Developmental relationships between speech and writing: is verb-phrase anaphora production a special case?

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  • 1School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, UK.



Young children's speech is typically more linguistically sophisticated than their writing. However, there are grounds for asking whether production of cohesive devices, such as verb-phrase anaphora (VPA), might represent an exception to this developmental pattern, as cohesive devices are generally more important in writing than in speech and so might be expected to be more frequent in children's writing than in their speech.


The study reported herein aims to compare the frequency of children's production of VPA constructions (e.g., Mary is eating an apple and so is John) between a written and a spoken task.


Forty-eight children participated from each of two age groups: 7-year-olds and 10-year-olds.


All the children received both a spoken and a written sentence completion task designed to elicit production of VPA. Task order was counterbalanced.


VPA production was significantly more frequent in speech than in writing and when the spoken task was presented first. Surprisingly, the 7-year-olds produced VPA constructions more frequently than the 10-year-olds.


Despite the greater importance of cohesion in writing than in speech, children's production of VPA is similar to their production of most other aspects of language in that more sophisticated constructions are used more frequently in speech than in writing. Children's written production of cohesive devices could probably be enhanced by presenting spoken tasks immediately before written tasks. The lower frequency of VPA production in the older children may reflect syntactic priming effects or a belief that they should produce sentences that are as fully specified as possible.

© 2012 The British Psychological Society.

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