Pragmatic Disability in Children With
Specific Language Impairments
Hans van Balkom
Pragmatics can be studied from two perspectives: as a relatively isolated component of language or as an integral part of all aspects of language. In general, pragmatics is defined as the study of the communicative use of language. As a consequence, pragmatic language disorders encompass significant problems with the communicative use of language. The classification of pragmatic disability thus applies to children who have problems with the recognition and application of the social rules for language and discourse. These children often have difficulties at school, making friends, and taking part in everyday conversations. The problems are quite diffuse, difficult to assess, and hard to define. In the present chapter, we therefore limit our discussion to the issue of pragmatic disability in children with specific language impairments (SLI). We define pragmatic disability as an inability to select and match a suitable linguistic form to the most appropriate and effective communicative function. The main problem for many children with SLI, then, is adequate acquisition of appropriate form–function linkages.
Two different theoretical approaches have shaped the study of pragmatic language disorders to date. The first is based on the theoretical assumption that pragmatics constitutes a separate level of linguistic analysis, analogous to the phonology, syntax, morphology, and semantics of language. McTear and Conti-Ramsden (1992) referred to this approach as the “pragmatics-as-separate” view, and Craig (1995) described it as “the modular competence-based approach” or “modular approach. ”