Linguistics Colloquium: Naama Friedmann

29/11/2016 - 14:00 - 15:30

Naama Friedmann, Tel Aviv University

Title: Syntactic deficits in hearing impairment: The critical role of the critical period for syntax

Abstract: Reduced language input during the sensitive period for language acquisition can seriously affect the development of syntax. The talk will describe the syntactic difficulties of orally trained children with hearing impairment in the comprehension and production of sentences derived by Wh movement. 

We used tasks that tested comprehension, production, and repetition of sentences derived by Wh movement: relative clauses, object questions, and topicalization structures and compared these with sentences with embedding without WH-movement, sentences with other types of syntactic movement (V-C movement and A-movement), and to other types of dependencies (pronoun dependency). Comprehension was tested using a sentence-picture matching task, a paraphrasing task and a question-about a sentences task, production was tested using a preference elicitation task and a picture description task. Sentence repetition used delayed repetition of sentences of various structures to further explore their syntactic abilities in various structures. We also tested their ability to read aloud and understand texts with and without syntactic movement.

The participants were 77 individuals with hearing impairment:  53 Hebrew-speaking children with moderate to profound hearing loss from birth aged 9;4-12;3 years (M = 10;4, SD = 0;9), 25 using cochlear implant and 28 using two hearing aids, and 24 Palestinian Arabic-speaking individuals with hearing impairment aged 9;6–21;0 (M = 14;6, SD = 2;1); 15 used binaural hearing aids; 2 used a cochlear implant; and 4 preferred not to use any type of hearing device. Hearing children with typically-developing language in fourth grade participated as controls.

The results indicated that most of the orally-trained children with hearing impairment showed deficit in object Wh-movement, with good ability to construct sentences with embedding without movement. The individual-level analysis indicates that a few of the children show a more extensive deficit that applied also to embedding without movement, which suggests that for them, the construction of the syntactic tree is impaired. Even children with good reading at the single word level failed to read (and understand) texts with syntactic movement when they had a syntactic deficit.

Age of hearing device fitting was the only background factor that correlated with syntactic abilities: children with hearing impairment who received hearing devices during the first year of life had better syntax. Thus, the first year of life forms a critical period for the acquisition of syntax, limited input in this period causes syntactic impairment. 

 

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