Questions Without Movement: A Study of Cantonese-Speaking Children With and Without Specific Language Impairment

Wong, Anita M.-Y.; Leonard, Laurence B.; Fletcher, Paul; Stokes, Stephanie F.
December 2004
Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research;Dec2004, Vol. 47 Issue 6, p1440
Academic Journal
English-speaking children with specific language impairment (SLI) appear to have special difficulty in the use of who-object questions (e.g., Who is the girl chasing?). It has been argued that the problems related to grammatical movement may be responsible for this difficulty. However, it is also possible that the lower frequency of who-object questions relative to who-subject questions by children with SLI who were acquiring Cantonese as their 1st language was examined. In Cantonese, the surface form of who-object questions (e.g., hung4zai2 sek3 bin1go3? [Bear kiss who?]) reflects the same subject, verb, object order typically used for declarative sentences, and a movement account provides no basis for expecting special difficulties with such questions. As in English, however, Cantonese who-object questions occur less frequently than do who-subject questions. A comparison of preschoolers with SLI, typically developing same-age peers, and younger, typically developing peers revealed that the children with SLI were less accurate in using who-object questions than either of the other participant groups yet showed no differences from these groups in the use of who-subject questions (e.g., bin1go3 sek3 zyu1zyu1? [Who kiss Piglet?]). The implications of these findings for current accounts of SLI are discussed, and the idea that input frequency and animacy may play a larger role than is often assumed is suggested.


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