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J Speech Hear Res. 1995 Aug;38(4):850-63.

Specific language impairment as a period of extended optional infinitive.

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  • 1University of Kansas, Lawrence, USA.


English-speaking children with specific language impairment (SLI) are known to have particular difficulty with the acquisition of grammatical morphemes that carry tense and agreement features, such as the past tense -ed and third-person singular present -s. In this study, an Extended Optional Infinitive (EOI) account of SLI is evaluated. In this account, -ed, -s, BE, and DO are regarded as finiteness markers. This model predicts that finiteness markers are omitted for an extended period of time for nonimpaired children, and that this period will be extended for a longer time in children with SLI. At the same time, it predicts that if finiteness markers are present, they will be used correctly. These predictions are tested in this study. Subjects were 18 5-year-old children with SLI with expressive and receptive language deficits and two comparison groups of children developing language normally: 22 CA-equivalent (5N) and 20 younger, MLU-equivalent children (3N). It was found that the children with SLI used nonfinite forms of lexical verbs, or omitted BE and DO, more frequently than children in the 5N and 3N groups. At the same time, like the normally developing children, when the children with SLI marked finiteness, they did so appropriately. Most strikingly, the SLI group was highly accurate in marking agreement on BE and DO forms. The findings are discussed in terms of the predictions of the EOI model, in comparison to other models of the grammatical limitations of children with SLI.

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