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Code-switching in bilingual children with DLD (Gross & Castilla-Earls, 2023)

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posted on 2023-06-20, 15:56 authored by Megan C. Gross, Anny Castilla-Earls

Purpose: This study examined the frequency, direction, and structural characteristics of code-switching (CS) during narratives by Spanish–English bilingual children with and without developmental language disorder (DLD) to determine whether children with DLD exhibit unique features in their CS that may inform clinical decision-making.

Method: Spanish–English bilingual children, aged 4;0–6;11 (years;months), with DLD (n = 33) and with typical language development (TLD; n = 33) participated in narrative retell and story generation tasks in Spanish and English. Instances of CS were classified as between utterance or within utterance; within-utterance CS was coded for type of grammatical structure. Children completed the morphosyntax subtests of the Bilingual English-Spanish Assessment to assist in identifying DLD and to index Spanish and English morphosyntactic proficiency.

Results: In analyses examining the contributions of both DLD status and Spanish and English proficiency, the only significant effect of DLD was on the tendency to engage in between-utterance CS; children with DLD were more likely than TLD peers to produce whole utterances in English during the Spanish narrative task. Within-utterance CS was related to lower morphosyntax scores in the target language, but there was no effect of DLD. Both groups exhibited noun insertions as the most frequent type of within-utterance CS. However, children with DLD tended to exhibit more determiner and verb insertions than TLD peers and increased use of “congruent lexicalization,” that is, CS utterances that integrate content and function words from both languages.

Conclusions: These findings reinforce that use of CS, particularly within-utterance CS, is a typical bilingual behavior even during narrative samples collected in a single-language context. However, language difficulties associated with DLD may emerge in how children code-switch, including use of between-utterance CS and unique patterns during within-utterance CS. Therefore, analyzing CS patterns may contribute to a more complete profile of children’s dual-language skills during assessment.

Supplemental Material S1. Participant characteristics by site.

Supplemental Material S2. Spearman-rho correlation tables.

Supplemental Material S3. Examples of insertion types.

Gross,  M. C., & Castilla-Earls, A. (2023). Code-switching during narratives by bilingual children with and without developmental language disorder. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. Advance online publication.


Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R15DC013670, granted to Anny Castilla-Earls. This work was also supported by faculty start-up funds from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (Gross).