The use of discourse markers by Afrikaans-speaking preschoolers with and without specific language impairment

Southwood, Frenette ; Carinus, Matty ; Engelbrecht, Salome (2010)

CITATION: Southwood, F., Carinus, M. & Engelbrecht, S. 2010. The use of discourse markers by Afrikaans-speaking preschoolers with and without specific language impairment. Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics Plus, 40:79-94, doi:10.5842/40-0-6.

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Discourse markers (DMs) are words or phrases speakers employ to coordinate what they want to say when, to whom and how during conversation. The purpose of this study was to establish (i) what types of DMs occur in the language of young Afrikaans-speaking children; (ii) what development, if any, takes place in DM use from the age of 4 years to 6 years; and (iii) how, if at all, the use of DMs by children with specific language impairment (SLI) differs from that of typically develping (TD) children. The participants were three Afrikaans-speaking groups: 15 TD 6-year-olds, 15 6-year-olds with SLI, and 15 TD 4-year-olds matched on mean length of utterance with the SLI group. A 30- minute spontaneous language sample was obtained from each participant. The number of occurrences of DMs (tokens) and the number of different DMs (types) used during these 30 minutes were tallied for each participant individually and for each of the three groups. It was found that maar 'but', en 'and', ja 'yes', and dan 'then' were some of the most frequently occurring DMs in the three groups. The SLI group used DMs that also occurred in the language of the TD groups, but the SLI group also used DMs which were not used by the TD groups at all. In terms of number of different DMs used, the SLI group functioned at a level between the two TD groups: They used more and a wider range of markers than the 4-year-olds but fewer and a smaller range of markers than their 6-year-old peers. It appears then that the use of DMs shows development between the ages of 4 and 6 years and that the use of DMs is delayed in children with SLI. Appropriate use of DMs can improve listeners' understanding of what is said; as such, it is recommended that speech-language therapists make DMs a focus point during therapy delivery to children with language impairment.

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