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J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2018 Sep 19;61(9):2157-2167. doi: 10.1044/2018_JSLHR-S-17-0435.

The Effects of Syntactic Complexity and Sentence Length on the Speech Motor Control of School-Age Children Who Stutter.

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Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Boston University, MA.
Speech and Feeding Disorders Laboratory, MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston, MA.
Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Michigan State University, East Lansing.



Early childhood stuttering is associated with atypical speech motor development. Compared with children who do not stutter (CWNS), the speech motor systems of school-age children who stutter (CWS) may also be particularly susceptible to breakdown under increased processing demands. The effects of increased syntactic complexity and sentence length on articulatory coordination were investigated.


Kinematic, temporal, and behavioral indices of articulatory coordination were quantified for school-age CWS (n = 19) and CWNS (n = 18). Participants produced 4 sentences varying in syntactic complexity (simple declarative/complex declarative with a relative clause) and sentence length (short/long). Lip aperture variability (LAVar) served as a kinematic measure of interarticulatory consistency over repeated productions. Articulation rate (syllables per second) was also calculated as a related temporal measure. Finally, we computed accuracy and stuttering frequency percentages for each sentence to assess task performance.


Increased sentence length, but not syntactic complexity, increased LAVar in both groups. This effect was disproportionately greater for CWS compared with CWNS. No group differences were observed for articulation rate. CWS were also less accurate in their sentence productions than fluent peers and exhibited more instances of stuttering when processing demands associated with length and syntactic complexity increases.


The speech motor systems of school-age CWS appear to be particularly vulnerable to processing demands associated with increased sentence length, as evidenced by increased LAVar. Increasing the length and complexity of the sentence stimuli also resulted in reduced production accuracy and increased stuttering frequency. We discuss these findings within a motor control framework of speech production.

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