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Syntactic priming effects in children with DLD

Garraffa, M., Coco, M. I., & Branigan, H. P. (2018). Impaired implicit learning of syntactic structure in children with developmental language disorder: Evidence from syntactic priming. Autism & Developmental Language Impairments, 3.

What was the aim?

Children with developmental language disorder (DLD) have impaired language development where language is either learnt more slowly, or along a more inconsistent trajectory. Recent research suggests that these impairments (predominately difficulties with grammar), may be due to deficits in ‘implicit’ learning mechanisms that are associated with the detection of common language ‘rules’ (i.e. unconscious and automatic). Authors aimed to investigate whether there would be a difference in these implicit learning mechanisms and whether children with DLD would show an impairment. Thus, authors compared 5- and 6-year-old Italian-speaking children with DLD to typically developing children by using a ‘structural priming paradigm’. More specifically, they examined how exposure to example sentence structures affects the child’s ability to produce well-formed sentences in both groups.

What was found?

  • Both groups benefited from seeing example sentence structures and ‘rules’, and were better able to structure grammar in a sentence as a result

  • Children with DLD benefited less than their typically developing peers from these example sentence structures and ‘rules’

  • The effect of providing an ‘example sentence’ was stronger when this example appeared immediately before the exercise, than when there was a delay

What does it mean?

The study provides evidence for difficulties in learning sentence structures and grammar. More specifically, these difficulties appear to be ‘implicit’ when relating to abstract ‘rules’. Impairments in these implicit learning mechanisms reduce their ability to learn as easily from examples provided. This means that less learning from linguistic experiences occurs in children with DLD and thus more input and time should be provided in order to achieve similar learning outcomes with typically developing children.

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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