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Grammatical errors in specific language impairment: Competence or performance limitations?

  • D. V. M. Bishop (a1)

Speech samples from twelve 8- to 12-year-old children with specific language impairment (SLI) were analyzed. The feature deficit hypothesis maintains that SLI children may produce morphological markers (e.g., plural -s) correctly, but they do not appreciate their role in marking grammatical features. Rather, they treat them as meaningless phonological variants. Findings from the present study were incompatible with this hypothesis: (a) production of morphological markers was not random; errors were unidirectional, in almost all cases involving omission of an inflection in an obligatory context; (b) overregularization errors were sometimes observed; (c) grammatical features differed in difficulty; (d) substitution of stems for inflected forms occurred with irregular as well as regular verbs; and (e) errors of pronoun case marking were common and always involved producing an accusative form in a context demanding the nominative. Children who used a specific inflectional form correctly in some utterances omitted it in others, suggesting a limitation of performance rather than competence. There were few obvious differences between utterances that did and did not include correctly inflected forms, though there was a trend for grammatical errors to occur on words that occurred later in an utterance. It is suggested that slowed processing in a limited capacity system that is handling several operations in parallel may lead to the omission of grammatical morphemes.

Corresponding author
MRC Applied Psychology Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge CB2 2EF, England
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Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
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