(by the student committee)

January, 2020

Author: Gabriel Qi

For our first ANA Listserv Research Digest in 2020, our random hunt lands on research studies into specific language impairment (SLI) across three languages (German, Turkish and Cantonese). They are highly focused on psycholinguistics. To get the readers oriented, this quote from Clahsen, Rothweiler, Sterner and Chilla (2014) may help:


“Specific Language Impairment (SLI) has been taken to be language impairment for no apparent reason, i.e. a delay and/or disorder of the normal acquisition of language in the absence of neurological trauma, cognitive impairment, psycho-emotional disturbance or motor-articulatory disorders (Leonard, 1998; Levy & Kave ́, 1999). Much recent research has focused on demonstrating that SLI is not as ‘‘specific’’ as originally thought and that in addition to language impairments, children with SLI have multiple non-linguistic difficulties in the domains of speech perception skills, working memory, attention and executive control and reading skills (e.g. Archibald & Gathercole, 2006; Joanisse & Seidenberg, 2003; Miller, Kail, Leonard, & Tomblin, 2001; Norbury, Bishop, & Briscoe, 2002; Schwartz, 2009).”


Clahsen and colleagues compared 12 German-speaking children with SLI (6 monolingual and 6 Turkish-German sequential bilingual) and 6 typically developing Turkish-German sequential bilingual children. In combination with previous findings on the same group of children, they argued that children with SLI were severely impaired in reliably producing correct agreement-marked verb forms (subject-verb agreement, an English equivalent would be “I am” instead of “I is”), but not in producing participle inflection (e.g., ge– prefixation in German past participles).


Fletcher, Stokes and Wong (2006), on the other hand, examined SLI in Cantonese. Due to the differences inherent in Cantonese and alphabetical languages, verb tense and agreement, noun phrase agreement, or the effects of finiteness on constituent order (e.g. verb-second requirements for finite forms in German and Dutch), do not apply to Cantonese. They used the aspect markers, a set of bound morphemes immediately following the lexical verbs and conveying temporal meanings, to compare between children with or without SLI. However, they did not find significant differences between the groups in their knowledge of aspect markers.


The differences in languages such as Cantonese and German make it difficult to compare findings across some languages, and to generalize findings in one to another. However, it is inarguably true that SLI exists in children speaking different languages. Therefore, it is important for future researchers and clinicians to continue this line of research. Indeed, as the author commented, “Language impairment in Chinese presents a major challenge for interdisciplinary basic and applied research, with considerable potential for the improvement of quality of life and educational opportunities for affected individuals.”


Food for thought this month:


Practically, what approaches may help spur or accelerate research on neuropsychology and languages other than English and the few West European languages?


Here are the links to access the articles this month:






  • Clahsen, H., Rothweiler, M., Sterner, F., & Chilla, S. (2014). Linguistic markers of specific language impairment in bilingual children: The case of verb morphology, Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 28, 709-721, doi:10.3109/02699206.2014.886726

  • Fletcher, P., Stokes, S., & Wong, A., (2006). Specific language impairment in Chinese. in Li, P. (Ed). The Handbook of East Asian Psycholinguistics: Volume 1, Chinese. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


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