Research on finiteness marking in child English has provided strong evidence that language-impaired child English speakers have particular difficulty with expressively and receptively representing finiteness (tense and agreement) on verbs (cf. Rice & Wexler 1996, Rice, Wexler & Hershberger 1998, Rice, Wexler & Redmond 1999), though existing research on finiteness marking on verbs in the spontaneous production of Spanish-speaking children with specific language impairment (SLI) (Bosch & Serra 1997, Restrepo & Kruth 2000, Bedore & Leonard 2005) concludes that language-impaired children do not have problems marking verbs for tense and agreement. However, most work on Spanish SLI has been limited methodologically to examining transcripts of spontaneous production. In this study, the authors show, through a reanalysis of the results of the elicited production study of Bedore & Leonard (2001), that the distribution of the 3 most common errors (bare stem canta, infinitive cantar and 3rd sg. past perfective cantó), produced by both language-impaired and typically-developing children, is sufficiently different as to distinguish the affected children from both language and age-matched control groups to a statistically significant degree. The authors then present the results of a new grammaticality judgment task, using these same 3 forms. On the basis of these findings, the authors conclude that finiteness marking on verbs is a promising clinical marker for SLI in Spanish, that spontaneous measures of finiteness marking do not provide the most accurate representation of children's grammatical competence in the verbal domain in a null subject language such as Spanish, and that more controlled measures, including elicited production and grammaticality judgment, should be considered as important diagnostic tools in the assessment of specific language impairment in Spanish.
Selected Proceedings of the 10th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium
edited by Joyce Bruhn de Garavito and Elena Valenzuela
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