Sensitivity to grammatical morphemes in children with specific language impairment

Mary McNamara, Allyson Carter, Bonnie McIntosh, Lou Ann Gerken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Grammatical morphemes, such as articles and auxiliary verbs, provide potentially useful information to language learners. However, children with specific language impairment (SLI) frequently fail to produce grammatical morphemes, raising questions about their sensitivity to them. To address this issue, two experiments were conducted in which 3- to 5-year-old children with SLI and with normally developing language (NL) heard sentences asking them to identify a picture corresponding to a named target word. The target occurred in either a grammatical sentence or one with an incorrectly used grammatical morpheme. In Experiment 1, the picture representing the target occurred with three unrelated distractor pictures. In Experiment 2, distractor sets included pictures that were semantically related to the target. In both studies, the SLI group chose fewer correct pictures when the target followed an incorrectly used morpheme. In Experiment 2, the SLI group chose more semantically related than unrelated distractors. These results suggest that children with SLI are sensitive to grammatical morphemes and that their incorrect picture choices may reflect a failure to maintain the target in memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1147-1157
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1998


  • Grammatical morphemes
  • Language comprehension
  • Specific language impairment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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