Markers to find DLD

Conti‐Ramsden, G., Botting, N., & Faragher, B. (2001). Psycholinguistic markers for specific language impairment (SLI). Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 42(6), 741-748.

Aim of the paper:

Many children have language delay but their language skills catch up over time. For other children language delay is the first sign of a language disorder. Finding markers for language disorder is important for diagnosis and intervention. There has been research on markers for DLD but there are still question that remained unanswered, such as whether combining multiple markers can lead to better prediction. This paper aims to understand whether nonword repetition, sentence repetition and tense marking ability could act as markers for developmental language disorder (DLD). Primary school children with and without DLD were assessed.

Marker: a trait that shows that a person has, or will likely have, a disorder.

Nonword repetition: assessed by having the researcher say a nonword (for example, “zog”) and the child needs to repeat it.

Tense marking ability: the ability to identify and use tense markers, such as “-ed” for past tense.

What they found:


  • All markers were accurate in finding children with severe DLD, but only nonword repetition and sentence repetition were useful in finding children with mild or resolved DLD.


  • The most accurate marker for DLD was sentence repetition. It correctly identified 90% of the children with DLD and 85% of the children without DLD. Nonword repetition was the second most accurate marker, followed by tense marking ability.


  • Combining markers led to higher accuracy in finding DLD, but the most successful combination was only 1% more accurate than sentence repetition alone.


What does this mean?


It is interesting that the two tasks that involve short term memory (our ability to hold something in our mind for a short time) - sentence repetition and nonword repetition - are the two most accurate markers for identifying children with DLD, even if it is mild or resolved. This finding suggests that children with DLD of any severity may show underlying limitations in short-term memory. With further research, these repetition tasks may help identify children who have mild DLD, or even children at risk of having DLD before we can tell the difference between delay and disorder.


Although the markers in this paper are accurate in identifying DLD, other studies have found that these markers are not specific to DLD. Some of these markers may also be a characteristic of reading problems or more global learning difficulties. Having a formal assessment of these markers is still important for understanding whether a child has DLD and what areas he or she struggles in.

Where can I read this paper?


This paper is not open access and was published before it was standard practice to host an accepted version online that could be easily accessed.

If you wish to read the full paper, please email E-DLD@bath.ac.uk.