Author: Gabriel Qi
For our first ANA Listserv Research Digest in 2020, our random hunt lands
on research studies into specific language impairment (SLI) across three languages
(German, Turkish and Cantonese). They are highly focused on psycholinguistics. To get
the readers oriented, this quote from Clahsen, Rothweiler, Sterner and Chilla (2014)
“Specific Language Impairment (SLI) has been taken to be language impairment for no
apparent reason, i.e. a delay and/or disorder of the normal acquisition of language in
the absence of neurological trauma, cognitive impairment, psycho-emotional
disturbance or motor-articulatory disorders (Leonard, 1998; Levy & Kave ́, 1999). Much
recent research has focused on demonstrating that SLI is not as ‘‘specific’’ as originally
thought and that in addition to language impairments, children with SLI have multiple
non-linguistic difficulties in the domains of speech perception skills, working memory,
attention and executive control and reading skills (e.g. Archibald & Gathercole, 2006;
Joanisse & Seidenberg, 2003; Miller, Kail, Leonard, & Tomblin, 2001; Norbury, Bishop, &
Briscoe, 2002; Schwartz, 2009).”
Clahsen and colleagues compared 12 German-speaking children with SLI (6 monolingual
and 6 Turkish-German sequential bilingual) and 6 typically developing Turkish-German
sequential bilingual children. In combination with previous findings on the same group
of children, they argued that children with SLI were severely impaired in reliably
producing correct agreement-marked verb forms (subject-verb agreement, an English
equivalent would be “I am” instead of “I is”), but not in producing participle inflection
(e.g., ge– prefixation in German past participles).
Fletcher, Stokes, and Wong (2006), on the other hand, examined SLI in Cantonese. Due
to the differences inherent in Cantonese and alphabetical languages, verb tense and
agreement, noun phrase agreement, or the effects of finiteness on constituent order
(e.g. verb-second requirements for finite forms in German and Dutch), do not apply to
Cantonese. They used the aspect markers, a set of bound morphemes immediately
following the lexical verbs and conveying temporal meanings, to compare between
children with or without SLI. However, they did not find significant differences between
the groups in their knowledge of aspect markers.
The differences in languages such as Cantonese and German make it difficult to
compare findings across some languages, and to generalize findings in one to another.
However, it is inarguably true that SLI exists in children speaking different languages.
Therefore, it is important for future researchers and clinicians to continue this line
of research. Indeed, as the author commented, “Language impairment in Chinese
presents a major challenge for interdisciplinary basic and applied research, with
considerable potential for the improvement of quality of life and educational
opportunities for affected individuals.”
Food for thought this month:
Practically, what approaches may help spur or accelerate research on neuropsychology
and languages other than English and the few West European languages?
Here are the links to access the articles this month:
• Clahsen, H., Rothweiler, M., Sterner, F., & Chilla, S. (2014). Linguistic markers of
specific language impairment in bilingual children: The case of verb
morphology, Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 28, 709-721,
• Fletcher, P., Stokes, S., & Wong, A., (2006). Specific language impairment in
Chinese. in Li, P. (Ed). The Handbook of East Asian Psycholinguistics: Volume 1,
Chinese. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.