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Int J Lang Commun Disord. 2000 Jan-Mar;35(1):1-29.

Pragmatic comprehension in secondary school-aged students with specific developmental language disorder.


This study explores the hypothesis that there may be particular difficulties for secondary school students with specific developmental language disorder (SDLD) in understanding contextual, pragmatic meaning. Sixty-four SDLD students aged 11+ to 14+ years are compared with chronological-age-matched and language-age-matched non-impaired students. New procedures are used to examine comprehension of two types of ambiguity where the context determines speaker intention: inconsistent messages of emotion and multiple meanings in context. These types of ambiguity are evident in a range of communicative intent, e.g. sarcasm, idiomatic expression, deceit and humour. Preliminary study into adolescent language suggests that at this age there is a growing expectation for students to understand these kinds of communication, both in the classroom and socially. The study finds that the SDLD students were less able than both comparison groups to use context to understand implied meanings. Non-impaired children were also more able to rule out literal interpretations when they did not know the non-literal meaning. These findings were statistically significant. The implications for research and practice are discussed, including those of diagnostic assessment, in the light of the literature survey revealing that many currently available do not assess pragmatic meaning comprehension. There is a challenge to the view that disorders in the semantic and pragmatic domains necessarily co-occur, as suggested by the diagnostic category semantic-pragmatic disorder.

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