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J Speech Lang Hear Res. 1998 Dec;41(6):1412-31.

Tense over time: the longitudinal course of tense acquisition in children with specific language impairment.

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University of Kansas, Lawrence 66045-2930, USA.


Tense marking in English is relatively late appearing and is especially late for children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI). Little is known about the full course of acquisition for this set of morphemes. Because tense marking is a fundamental property of clause construction, it is central to current theories of morphosyntax and language acquisition. A longitudinal study is reported that encompasses the years of 2;6-8;9 years for typically developing children (N = 43) and 4;6-8;8 years for children with SLI (N = 21). The findings show that a diverse set of morphemes share the property of tense marking; that this set is not mastered until age 4 years in typically developing children and after 7 years for children with SLI; that acquisition shows linear and nonlinear components for both groups, in a typical S-shaped curve; and that nonsyntactic measures are not predictors of growth (including nonverbal intelligence, vocabulary size, and mother's education), whereas initial MLU does predict rate of acquisition. The findings are consistent with a model of Optional Infinitives (OI) for typically developing children (cf. Wexler, 1994, 1996) and Extended Optional Infinitives (EOI) for children with SLI. This model hypothesizes incomplete specification of features of tense that are represented in the grammar.

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