Linguistics at Newcastle


Dynamic Assessment of Novel Sentence Learning by Children of Varying Spoken Language Abilities


About 7% of children have language-learning difficulties, or "Specific Language Impairment" (SLI). This is diagnosed using "static" language assessments of production and comprehension. An alternative method, dynamic assessment (DA), measures "learning potential" by assessing children's response to training, or the support required to perform a particular task. DA is culturally-neutral and reliably predicts development. However, its open-endedness undermines its validity and replicability.

So far, no DA study has investigated acquistion of language structure, the central difficulty in SLI. Studies have investigated word-learning (Law & Camilleri, 2007) and training on language assessments (Botting & Hasson, 2010). Yet, surely we must observe children acquiring real structures to obtain maximum "ecological validity", or life-likeness?

This study uses a storybook to teach two new constructions; "What makes you think you can X?", and "Just because X, doesn't mean Y". These constructions are low-frequency and hence late-required. As their meanings are idiosyncratic, they must be learnt as wholes and therefore existing grammatical knowledge will be of relatively little help. Consequently, the task simulates the pairing of a linguistic form with a specific meaning, which is a central skill in language acquisition according to recent "usage-based" theories (Tomasello, 2003).

The measure of the learning potential is the number of models required for successful production. With its fixed format, and quantitative scale, the procedure overcomes the reliability issues of previous DA studies. It measures "frequency-dependent learning", a particular characteristic of SLI. The prediction is that children with SLI will require more models, i.e. greater frequency, for successful production.

Research questions:

Does the assessment;