Language-Specific Effects of Task Demands on the Manifestation of Specific Language Impairment: A Comparison of English and Icelandic
Purpose: Previous research has indicated that the manifestation of specific language impairment (SLI) varies according to factors such as language, age, and task. This study examined the effect of task demands on language production in children with SLI cross-linguistically.
Method: Icelandic- and English-speaking school-age children with SLI and normal language (NL) peers (n = 42) were administered measures of verbal working memory. Spontaneous language samples were collected in contexts that vary in task demands: conversation, narration, and expository discourse. The effect of the context-related task demands on the accuracy of grammatical inflections was examined.
Results: Children with SLI in both language groups scored significantly lower than their NL peers in verbal working memory. Nonword repetition scores correlated with morphological accuracy. In both languages, mean length of utterance (MLU) varied systematically across sampling contexts. Context exerted a significant effect on the accuracy of grammatical inflection in English only. Error rates were higher overall in English than in Icelandic, but whether the difference was significant depended on the sampling context. Errors in Icelandic involved verb and noun phrase inflection to a similar extent.
Conclusions: The production of grammatical morphology appears to be more taxing for children with SLI who speak English than for those who speak Icelandic. Thus, whereas children with SLI in both language groups evidence deficits in language processing, cross-linguistic differences are seen in which linguistic structures are vulnerable when processing load is increased. Future research should carefully consider the effect of context on children’s language performance.