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Int J Lang Commun Disord. 2007 Mar-Apr;42(2):187-208.

Sentence repetition as a measure of early grammatical development in Italian.

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University of Rome La Sapienza, Rome, Italy.



Research on language acquisition and disorders highlights the need to evaluate the early phases of language development for the early identification of children with language problems (screening), and to determine the nature and severity of language disorders (diagnosis).


The paper presents a new Sentence Repetition Task developed for evaluating language abilities in Italian pre-schoolers. Two studies are reported. The first is aimed at evaluating the power of the Sentence Repetition Task in discriminating the developmental changes in children's capacity to repeat sentences of different length and morphosyntactic complexity. Moreover, the test-retest reliability was assessed. The second study explored the relationship between the Sentence Repetition Task, free speech and verbal memory span.


The test included 27 sentences of different length and complexity. Each sentence was accompanied with a picture reproducing its global meaning. In Study 1, the Sentence Repetition Task was administrated to 100 middle- and lower-class children (balanced for gender) between 2 and 4 years with a test-retest design. Test results were submitted to univariate analysis of variance, using five age levels as independent variables. To evaluate the test reliability, test-retest correlational analyses were conducted. In Study 2, 25 middle- and lower-class children between 2 and 4 years of age, balanced for age and gender, participated. The performance of the children on the repetition test was compared with their spontaneous language data. Moreover, the same children received a Verbal Memory Span test, consisting of a list of ten strings of different number of words. Correlational analyses were conducted to evaluate the relationships between the Sentence Repetition Task, free speech and the Verbal Memory Span test.


Study 1 showed that 2-year-old children's repeated sentences were highly telegraphic. Between the age of 2.0 and 2.6 the mean length of utterance in the Sentence Repetition Task grew from approximately two to three words, and the number of omissions of articles, prepositions and modifiers significantly decreased. After 3.0 years old, omissions of free function words practically disappeared. The results of Study 2 showed that mean length of utterance, omission of articles and use of the verbs in the Sentence Repetition Task correlated with the same measures of the free speech. Moreover, positive correlations were found between verbal memory span and performance of both the repetition task and the free speech.


Results demonstrate that the repetition test is reliable, discriminates between the different age groups examined, highlights the relevant developmental stages described in the literature, and provides a reliable measure of the mean length of utterance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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