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J Commun Disord. 2004 Nov-Dec;37(6):517-33.

Complex syntax used by school-age children with specific language impairment (SLI) in child-adult conversation.

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School of Hearing, Speech and Language Sciences, Ohio University, W233 Grover Center, Athens 45701, USA.


The present study is an investigation of complex sentence structures produced by school-age children in ordinary 100-utterance language samples. A total of 15 children with specific language impairment (SLI) and 15 of their classmates with typical language (TL) were the participants. Each child's conversational sample was coded for several types of complex sentence structures. While a 100-utterance language sample was adequate to yield exemplars of several types of spoken syntactic complexity, findings raise concerns about the content validity of conversational language sampling in the assessment of spoken syntactic complexity. Results also indicated that, although the children with SLI produced fewer complex sentences as well as combined complex sentences than their classmates with TL, they produced some examples of most spoken complex sentence structures in their conversations. Implications for using conversational language sampling to assess complex syntax are discussed.


The reader will (a) explain the strengths and weaknesses of language sampling in assessment of spoken syntactic complexity in school-age children, and (b) describe differences in children with SLI and children with TL for spoken syntactic complexity in child-adult conversation, as well as how to account for those differences.

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