Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Acquisition of Definite Article + Noun Agreement of Spanish-English Bilingual Children with Specific Language Impairment

Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Acquisition of Definite Article + Noun Agreement of Spanish-English Bilingual Children with Specific Language Impairment

Article excerpt

The objective of this study was to assess the ability of young, bilingual Spanish-English-speaking children with specific language impairment (SLI) to detect and produce grammatically valid "definite article + noun" forms in Spanish. We focused on this particular form because the Spanish language requires agreement between definite articles and their accompanying noun forms. In English, there is no translation equivalent for this obligatory agreement. We were interested in whether children with SLI in a bilingual environment would acquire this form in a predictable, developmental manner. Results of the study indicated that, despite their language handicap, our participants performed in a rather expected manner. That is, as a group, they were more likely to offer an accurate response when the response followed an implicit morphemic rule. Therefore, our study supports the notion that children with language delays make use of Slobin's (1973) Operating Principles, which predict that, in an attempt to understand language, children will pay attention to the occurrence of particular speech segments in the language.

In evaluating and treating bilingual children presenting with communication disorders, the clinician needs a well-established base of knowledge regarding language development in both of the languages involved before an accurate assessment can be made. As we understand bilingualism, surface structure is a primary feature that distinguishes one language from another, and, indeed, many monolingual and bilingual children have difficulties mastering the surface structures of their particular language (Hamayan & Damico, 1991). Currently, a number of challenges impede the evaluation process as well as clinical interventions for bilingual children with language delays. First, a clinically relevant body of knowledge regarding the intricacies of language learning and language impairment of both languages must be established. Second, an understanding of language-specific behaviors (e.g., the acquisition of different morpho-syntactic rules) must be achieved. Last, reliable techniques for assessing language-specific skills must be devised. Early attempts to assess bilingual children focused primarily on translating existing formal assessment tools from English into the child's other language. However, adapted versions of standardized tests weakened test constructs and, more important, did not adequately reflect the linguistic register used by the child. Furthermore, those versions could not capture all of the language-specific features of a target language (Omark & Watson, 1983). In addition, translations of standardized English tests often contain language items that are unfamiliar to children who are exposed to two languages simultaneously (e.g., Tex-Mex; DeAlivia & Havessy, 1974). Current understanding of language acquisition processes are based on studies using speakers of English, and thus this accounts for the English-specific details, such as number and person markers, but as a result, features such as quantifiers (found in Chinese, for example) and gender markers (found in Spanish, for example) are disregarded. Needless to say, the "translation approach" falls short on any measures of reliability or validity. Perhaps a more conservative but also more constructive approach would be to collect information on various structures in the non-English language and study the course of their development in children who are learning the target language. In this manner, standardized testing approaches could then be based on the course of acquisition of language-specific features.

Morphology is the aspect of language responsible for the internal organization of words, governing the use of grammatical markers as well as both derivational and inflectional affixes (Owens, 1992). Morphology and syntax have been extensively studied both within and across languages (Brown, 1973; Slobin, 1985). In his landmark study, Brown reported on the order of acquisition of 14 English morphemes, as demonstrated by three normally developing, English-speaking children. …

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