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Narrative skills of adolescents involved with the justice system

Kippin, N. R., Leitao, S., Finlay-Jones, A., Baker, J., & Watkins, R. (2021). The oral and written narrative language skills of adolescent students in youth detention and the impact of language disorder. Journal of Communication Disorders, 90, 106088.

Aim of the paper:

Previous research has found that poor language skills and language disorders are common with young people who are involved with the justice system. But most research has focused on language skills at the word- and sentence- level without investigating language skills at a text-level. This paper aims to look at macrostructure and microstructure elements in the spoken and written narrative texts of 24 adolescence students in a youth detention centre. Eleven of them met criteria for language disorder.


Macrostructure elements: story grammar elements that reflect key events in a story, which allow audience to understand the plot and the relationship between events. For example: location, time and characters.

Microstructure elements: smaller linguistic elements of grammar and vocabulary that create structure and cohesion in sentences. For example: connectors (and, or), prepositions (in, on, after) and pronouns (he, she, her, him, they).

What they found:

  • All students showed greater narrative skills in writing when compared to speech. And all students’ narratives were characterised by a lack of key details, such as perception of time.

  • Students with language disorder include less macrostructure elements in their speech and less microstructure elements in their writing, when compared to students without language disorder.

  • All students with language disorder in this study did not include the characters’ intent, in both their speech and writing.

What does this mean?

The findings of this paper suggest that adolescents with language disorder are more likely to struggle in narrative language when compared to adolescents without language disorder when involved with the justice system. However, both groups showed some difficulties in producing written and spoken narrative. As narrative skills play an important role in education and forensic settings, such as police interviews, the authors think that there is a need for text-level language assessment and intervention. This will help identify and respond to functional language difficulties in young people who are involved with the justice system and potentially help support them to tell their own stories.

Where can I read this paper?

This paper is open access, which means everyone can read it. Please click here to find the full paper.


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