About Our Research

About Our Research

The Child Language Research Laboratory conducts studies designed to uncover the nature of language disorders in children. Progress in understanding these disorders should lead to more effective intervention approaches and to methods of early identification.

The children we study have been described using a variety of labels. We use the term “Developmental Language Disorder” (DLD), as advocated by many in the research community. These children might be receiving speech-language therapy at school and have an IEP that uses terms such as “language impairment”, “language delay,” and “speech impairment”.

For more information about this diagnosis: Children With DLD; For more information about related programs: What We Offer

These children not only have significant difficulties acquiring spoken language but are also at risk for reading problems when they reach school age. They are a puzzle because factors often associated with language-learning deficits are not present in these children. Children with DLD show normal hearing, age-appropriate scores on nonverbal tests of intelligence, and no evidence of neurological damage or disease. The prevalence of DLD may be as high as 7% during the preschool years.

As part of these studies, we also test children in the same age range who have typical language development, as a comparison group. These children complete the same standardized testing and research tasks. Children with typical language development

The studies conducted by the research team have dealt with a wide variety of questions concerning the language comprehension and production abilities of preschool-age children with DLD. In recent years, there have been three major lines of research.

Our Studies

Our current line of research concerns the word learning abilities of children with DLD. These children have more limited vocabularies than their typically developing peers. In an on-going project, we are testing procedures designed to significantly improve these children’s ability to learn new words. Our focus includes not only the children’s ability to associate a meaning with a new word but also to retain that new word and apply it in appropriate ways in their own speech. Studies are planned to help the children learn and retain new nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

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The Role of Input in Language Learning

In a second line of research, we have been testing the hypothesis that many of the grammatical errors made by children with LI have their source in the children’s misinterpretation of longer sentences that appear in their input. Even errors that seem blatantly ungrammatical (e.g., “Me do the dishes”) are identical to portions of larger, grammatical utterances that children hear (e.g., “Help me do the dishes”) To test this hypothesis, we have been using a variety of research methods, including novel verb learning tasks, picture-based comprehension activities, eye gaze measurements, electrophysiological techniques, and intervention procedures.

Crosslinguistic Studies

For many years, we have also studied the language comprehension and production characteristics of children with LI who were acquiring very different languages, in which grammatical notions such as past tense and possession are expressed in markedly divergent ways. The goal of this research is to discover the common denominator – the core of these children’s severe grammatical difficulties. Thus far, studies of English have been supplemented by investigations of Cantonese, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish. We are fortunate to be working with an excellent group of researchers who are experts in these particular languages.