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Lexical activation during sentence comprehension in adolescents with history of Specific Language Impairment



Lexical activation during sentence comprehension in adolescents with history of Specific Language Impairment



Journal of Communication Disorders 46(5-6): 413-427



One remarkable characteristic of speech comprehension in typically developing (TD) children and adults is the speed with which the listener can integrate information across multiple lexical items to anticipate upcoming referents. Although children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) show lexical deficits (Sheng & McGregor, 2010) and slower speed of processing (Leonard et al., 2007), relatively little is known about how these deficits manifest in real-time sentence comprehension. In this study, we examine lexical activation in the comprehension of simple transitive sentences in adolescents with a history of SLI and age-matched, TD peers. Participants listened to sentences that consisted of the form, Article-Agent-Action-Article-Theme, (e.g., The pirate chases the ship) while viewing pictures of four objects that varied in their relationship to the Agent and Action of the sentence (e.g., Target, Agent-Related, Action-Related, and Unrelated). Adolescents with SLI were as fast as their TD peers to fixate on the sentence's final item (the Target) but differed in their post-action onset visual fixations to the Action-Related item. Additional exploratory analyses of the spatial distribution of their visual fixations revealed that the SLI group had a qualitatively different pattern of fixations to object images than did the control group. The findings indicate that adolescents with SLI integrate lexical information across words to anticipate likely or expected meanings with the same relative fluency and speed as do their TD peers. However, the failure of the SLI group to show increased fixations to Action-Related items after the onset of the action suggests lexical integration deficits that result in failure to consider alternate sentence interpretations. As a result of this paper, the reader will be able to describe several benefits of using eye-tracking methods to study populations with language disorders. They should also recognize several potential explanations for lexical deficits in SLI, including possible reduced speed of processing, and degraded lexical representations. Finally, they should recall the main outcomes of this study, including that adolescents with SLI show different timing and location of eye-fixations while interpreting sentences than their age-matched peers.

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Accession: 054118917

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

PMID: 24099807

DOI: 10.1016/j.jcomdis.2013.09.001


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