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The roles of language use and vocabulary size in the emergence of word-combining in children with complex neurodevelopmental disabilities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2020

University of Canterbury, New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour The Champion Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand
University of Canterbury, New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour
Viktoria PAPP
University of Canterbury, New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour
Address for correspondence: Susan Foster-Cohen, New Zealand Institute of Language, Brain and Behaviour, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. Email:


Parent report data on 82 preschool children with complex neurodevelopmental disabilities including Down syndrome, dyspraxia, autism, and global developmental delay suggests communicative language use must reach a threshold level before vocabulary size becomes the best predictor of word combining. Using the Language Use Inventory and the MacArthur-Bates CDI (with sign vocabulary option), statistical modelling using regression trees and random forests suggests that, despite high linear correlations between variables, (1) pragmatic ability, particularly children's emerging ability to talk about things, themselves and others is a significantly better predictor of the earliest word combining than vocabulary size; and (2) vocabulary size becomes a better predictor of later word combining, once this pragmatic base has been established.

Brief Research Report
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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We are grateful to the parents who made this research possible; to the staff of The Champion Centre who understood its importance; and to the action editor and reviewers at the Journal of Child Language for incisive feedback that improved the quality of the work.


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