Syntactic Processing in Developmental Dyslexia and in Specific Language
Impairment: A study on the acquisition of the past participle construction
This dissertation aims to identify linguistic precursors of developmental
dyslexia. Currently, dyslexic children are diagnosed only after they have
tried (and failed) to acquire reading skills. Ideally, dyslexic children
should be identified before the onset of reading instruction. An early
diagnosis could lead to early intervention which, in turn, could have a
positive effect on dyslexics’ reading ability. Since dyslexia is a genetic
disorder, a viable way to identify linguistic precursors of dyslexia is to
study the language development of children with a genetic risk of
developing dyslexia. This dissertation focuses on morphosyntactic
development in children at risk for dyslexia, and more precisely on these
children’s mastery of the past participle construction. The development of
the at-risk children is compared to that of normally developing children
and to children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI).
This thesis shows that children with a predisposition for dyslexia differ
from normally developing children in their morphosyntactic development.
With regard to their perception and production of the past participle
construction, the at-risk children do not exhibit deviant morphosyntactic
development. However, their representation of the morphosyntactic
dependency underlying the past participle construction seems vulnerable. In
complex sentences, the at-risk children generate ungrammatical
constructions and omit functional items such as auxiliaries, determiners
and verbal morphology. The behaviour of the at-risk children is best
accounted for by assuming that they suffer from a limited processing
capacity that affects their control over morphosyntactic dependency relations.
This dissertation is of relevance to scholars in the fields of reading- and
language disorders as well as to clinicians working with dyslexic and/or
language impaired children.
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