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The influences of number of syllables and wordlikeness on children’s repetition of nonwords

  • Susan E. Gathercole (a1), Cath Willis (a1), Hazel Emslie (a2) and Alan D. Baddeley (a2)


It has recently been suggested that the developmental association between nonword repetition performance and vocabulary knowledge reflects the contribution of phonological memory processes to vocabulary acquisition (e.g., Gathercole & Baddeley, 1989). An alternative account of the association is that the child uses existing vocabulary knowledge to support memory for nonwords. The present article tests between these two alternative accounts by evaluating the role of phonological memory and linguistic factors in nonword repetition. In a longitudinal database, repetition accuracy in 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds was found to be sensitive to two independent factors: a phonological memory factor, nonword length, and a linguistic factor, wordlikeness. To explain these combined influences, it is suggested that repeating nonwords involves temporary phonological memory storage which may be supported by either a specific lexical analogy or by an appropriate abstract phonological frame generated from structurally similar vocabulary items.


Corresponding author

Dr. Susan Gathercole, Department of Psychology, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YF, England


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Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
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