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LINGUIST List 19.1848

Wed Jun 11 2008

Diss: Lang Acq/Psycholing/Semantics/Syntax: Douglas: 'The Semantic ...'

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        1.    Susan Douglas, The Semantic and Syntactic Development of Verbs in the Language of Children with Autism

Message 1: The Semantic and Syntactic Development of Verbs in the Language of Children with Autism
Date: 11-Jun-2008
From: Susan Douglas <susandouglasozemail.com.au>
Subject: The Semantic and Syntactic Development of Verbs in the Language of Children with Autism
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Institution: La Trobe University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2007

Author: Susan Louise Douglas

Dissertation Title: The Semantic and Syntactic Development of Verbs in the Language of Children with Autism

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Hilary Chappell
Roger Wales

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis investigates the acquisition of verbs in children with autism
using an observational and an experimental study design. The observational
study was primarily concerned with the semantic development of verbs, with
a supplementary focus on prepositions. It was hypothesised that there would
be evidence of atypical development in categories which encode concepts
associated with cognitive impairments in children with autism such as
psychological states. The corpus consisted of transcripts of conversational
data from ten children with autism of varying ages and abilities. Verb use
within semantic categories was profiled according to the following
parameters: frequency of use within the individual lexicons of each child,
expressed as a percentage of total verb use; lexical diversity; and,
subjects encoded. Prepositions were analysed on the same criteria. The
results indicate that, while often delayed, the path of semantic
development does not appear to be atypical. It is argued that theory of
mind ability appears to influence the rate of semantic development in
children with autism.

In light of recent debate regarding the developmental relationship between
language and cognition, the production of complex sentences with
psychological state verbs by children with autism was examined. The data
raised questions about the extent to which general cognitive development
informs language acquisition. The experimental studies were chosen to
further explore this issue. Five children with autism recruited for the
observational study participated in three tasks: two experiments eliciting
complex wh-questions and a theory of mind task. The results indicated that
three children conformed to the syntactic constraints governing the
formation of such questions, and two did so where the target questions
could be elicited. Four of the five children passed the theory of mind
task. The implications of the results from both studies for theories of
language acquisition in autism and typical development are discussed.

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