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Growth of complex syntax (Owens et al., 2024)

online resource
posted on 2024-03-01, 15:29 authored by Robert E. Owens Jr., Stacey L. Pavelko, Debbie Hahs-Vaughn

Purpose: Production of complex syntax is a hallmark of later language development; however, most of the research examining age-related changes has focused on adolescents or analyzed narrative language samples. Research documenting age-related changes in the production of complex syntax in elementary school–aged children in conversational language samples is limited. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine age-related changes in the production of coordinate and subordinate clauses in children between 5 and 10 years of age obtained from 50-utterance conversational language samples.

Method: The analytic sample included 196 children with typical language development, who ranged in age from 5;0 to 10;11 (years;months; girls = 103; boys = 96; three cases were removed). Fifty-utterance conversational language samples were examined for use of coordinate and subordinate clauses.

Results: Results of regression analyses indicated that the production of coordinate and subordinate clauses could be predicted from age. The proportion of utterances that included subordinate clauses increased 0.20% for every month increase in age (p < .001). Coordinate clauses also continued to grow, although at a slower rate (0.10% increase for every month increase in age, p < .001). Finally, the proportion of simple utterances (i.e., utterances without coordinate or subordinate clauses) decreased with age (0.40% decrease for every month increase in age, p < .001).

Conclusions: This study indicated that as children’s age increased, they used fewer, simple, one-clause sentences and more utterances that included subordinate clauses, with or without coordinate clauses. These results were obtained from 50-utterance language samples, further supporting use of language sampling to develop intervention goals and monitor progress in therapy.

Supplemental Material S1. Verbal techniques to elicit language samples.

Supplemental Material S2. Rules for identifying coordination and subordination.

Owens, R. E., Jr., Pavelko, S. L., & Hahs-Vaughn, D. (2024). Growth of complex syntax: Coordinate and subordinate clause use in elementary school–aged children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. Advance online publication.