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Anticipatory sentence processing in children with specific language impairment: Evidence from eye movements during listening

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2012

LLORENÇ ANDREU
Affiliation:
Open University of Catalonia
MÒNICA SANZ-TORRENT*
Affiliation:
University of Barcelona
JOHN C. TRUESWELL
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania
*
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Mònica Sanz Torrent, Department of Basic Psychology, University of Barcelona, Passeig de la Vall d'Hebron, 171, 08035 Barcelona, Spain. E-mail: monicasanz@ub.edu

Abstract

Twenty-five children with specific language impairment (SLI; age 5 years, 3 months [5;3]–8;2), 50 typically developing children (3;3–8;2), and 31 normal adults participated in three eye-tracking experiments of spoken language comprehension that were designed to investigate the use of verb information during real-time sentence comprehension in Spanish. In Experiment 1, participants heard sentences like El niño recorta con cuidado el papel (The boy trims carefully the paper) in the presence of four depicted objects, only one of which satisfied the semantic restrictions of the verb recorta (e.g., paper, clock, fox, and dinosaur). Eye movements revealed that children with SLI, like other groups, were able to recognize and retrieve the meaning of the verb rapidly enough to anticipate the upcoming semantically appropriate referent, prior to actually hearing the noun phrase el papel (the paper). Experiments 2 and 3 revealed that for all groups of participants, anticipatory eye movements were also modulated by the semantic fit of the object serving as the patient/theme of the verb. Relatively fine-grained semantic information of a verb was computed fast enough even by children with SLI to result in anticipatory eye movements to semantically appropriate referents. Children with SLI did differ from age-matched controls, but only slightly in terms of overall anticipatory looking at target objects; the time course of looking between these groups was quite similar. In addition, no differences were found between children with SLI and control children matched for mean length of utterance. Implications for theories that characterize SLI are discussed.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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