At the intersection of cognition and grammar: Deficits comprehending counterfactuals in Turkish children with specific language impairment

Yarbay Duman T., Blom E., Topbaş S. S.

Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, vol.58, no.2, pp.410-421, 2015 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier


Purpose: This study investigated the comprehension of counterfactual conditionals in monolingual Turkish children with specific language impairment (SLI) and typically developing (LSTD) children. Comprehending counterfactuals requires a well-developed cognitive system (Beck, Riggs, & Gorniak, 2009). Children with SLI have impaired cognitive functioning (Im-Bolter, Johnston, & Pascual-Leone, 2006), which affects their ability to comprehend counterfactuals. Method: The sample consisted of 13 children (9 boys, 4 girls) with SLI who were matched in age and nonverbal intelligence with 13 TD children (8 boys, 5 girls; mean age 6;9 [years; months] for both groups). Each group completed a sentence comprehension and repetition task with 3 sentence conditions: nonconditional, factual, and counterfactual. Nonconditionals did not have if-embedding, whereas factual and counterfactual conditionals were morphosyntactically equivalent if-clauses, but only the latter was cognitively complex. Results: Conditionals were more difficult to comprehend than nonconditionals for both groups. Counterfactuals were more difficult to comprehend than the morphosyntactically equivalent factual counterparts for the SLI group. There was no discrepancy between the groups for repetition of counterfactuals and factuals. Conclusions: Children with SLI have difficulty processing counterfactuals due to morphosyntactic complexity (if-embedding) and the cognitive processes involved in comprehending counterfactuals. This indicates that cognitive complexity adds to sentence comprehension deficits in SLI.