Our Research

Learning Grammar from Stable vs. Varied Input

There is debate about whether a stable model or a more varied model affects the rate of learning for a new grammatical construction. For example, the distribution of verbs within a sentence can be one way of influencing learning rate. Highly stable phrases (like he kicked the bucket and I don’t know) are learned rapidly and inflexibly. More variable structures may take time to learn because you have to learn the many different ways they can be used (e.g., I want to eat; he wants an ice cream cone; she wants her mom to buy chocolate). The literature on motor learning supports the hypothesis that high levels of variability in the input lead to better learning. However, the word learning literature supports a different claim – that input with a single, stable exemplar helps children map words to meanings.

We are currently running two studies to investigate the role of verb distribution in grammar learning: one is an artificial grammar-learning task for children ages 7-9; the other is a 4-week book-reading treatment study for 3- through 5-year-olds. For more information, visit our Current Studies page.

Production of Complex Sentences

In order to be successful in school children have to use complex sentences — sentences that communicate about emotions, thoughts, and desires as well as sentences that use adverbs (usually… when…. because…)  and conditionals (if…then). Typical children develop these sentences between two and five.  Children with language impairment take longer to learn how to use these sentences and tend to use them less often.  We are also interested in finding out what strategies children use to learn these sentences. When they say a particularly complicated sentence, does their use of grammar get worse?  Does the type of verb or length of the sentence influence how accurate children are at saying the sentence?

 

  1. Hall, J.E. & Owen Van Horne, A.J. (2012, Nov).  Linguistic Context Influences ‘to’ Use by Children With SLI. Poster presented at the American Speech Language Hearing Association, Atlanta, GA.
  2. Koehlinger, K., Owen Van Horne, A.J.,  Moeller, M.P., (2012, June ). Predictors of use of complex syntax by six-year-old children with hearing loss and their normal hearing peers. Poster presented at the Thirty-third Annual Meeting of the Symposium for Research in Child Language Disorders, Madison.
  3. Owen Van Horne, A.J., & Lin, .S.J, (2011) Cognitive state verbs and verb complements in children with SLI and their typically developing peers. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 25, 881-898
  4. McGregor, K.K., Berns, A.J., Owen, A.J., Michels, S.A., Duff, D., Bahnsen, A., & Lloyd, M., (2011). Associations between syntax and the lexicon among children with SLI and ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
  5. Owen, A.J. (2011).  Proficiency with tense concordance: Children with SLI and their typically developing peers. Journal of Child Language,38, 675-699.
  6. Achenbauch, W. & Owen, AJ (2010, June). The effect of sentence type and elicitation context on grammatical error rates in typical children and children with SLI. Poster presented at the Thirty-first Annual Meeting of the Symposium for Research in Child Language Disorders, Madison WI.
  7. Owen, A.J. (2010).  Factors affecting accuracy of past tense production in children with SLI: What can verb type, clause type, and sentence type tell us about current theoretical approaches? Journal of Speech, Language, &  Hearing Research, 53, 993-1014.
  8. Owen, A.J., & Leonard, L.B. (2007).  The overgeneralization of nonfinite complements to finite contexts: The case of decide.  Journal of Child Language. 34, 545-570.
  9. Owen, A.J., & Leonard, L.B., (2006).  The production of finite and nonfinite complement clauses by children with SLI and their typically developing peers.  Journal of Speech, Language, & Hearing Research, 49, 548-571

Acquisition of Past Tense

Past tense can be especially difficult for both typical children and children with language impairment to learn.  Not only do children have to figure out that “add -ed” means something has already happened, they have to figure out how to apply this rule to regular verbs and when to use irregular verbs.  We are examining whether the choice of verbs used influences how children learn to use past tense.  We have looked at this using statistical models to better understand what verb properties influence accuracy.  We have are also beginning to use computational modeling and intervention research to better understand the learning mechanisms involved.

 

  1. Owen, A.J. (2010).  Factors affecting accuracy of past tense production in children with SLI: What can verb type, clause type, and sentence type tell us about current theoretical approaches? Journal of Speech, Language, &  Hearing Research, 53, 993-1014.
  2. Green, M., & Owen, A.J., (2009, Nov). The role of lexical frequency, telicity, and phonological factors on regular past tense production in children with SLI and their typically developing peers. Paper presented at the Thirty fourth annual Boston University Child Language Development Conference, Boston, MA.
  3. Leonard, L.B., Deevy, P., Kurtz, R., Krantz Chorev, L., Owen, A.J., Polite, E., Elam, D., Finneran, D., (2007). Lexical aspect and the use of verb morphology by children with specific language impairment.  Journal of Speech, Language, & Hearing Research, 50.759-777.

Use of Grammatical Morphology

How do children learn to use the little parts of speech like ‘the’ and ‘is’? What makes children accurate at using grammatical word endings like -s and -ed?   We have examined the influences of phonology, frequency, and word type on accuracy in typical children, children with language impairment, and children with hearing loss.

 

  1. Koehlinger, K.K., Owen Van Horne, A.J., & Moeller, M.P., (in press). Grammatical outcomes of 3 & 6 year old children with mild-severe hearing loss.   Journal of Speech, Language, & Hearing Research.
  2. Koehlinger, K.K., Owen Van Horne, A.J., & Moeller, M.P., (2011).Language Abilities of 3 & 6 year old Children with Mild‐Severe Hearing Loss as Compared to their Typically Developing Peers: Data from the OCHL Project. Poster presented at the Thirty-second Annual Meeting of the Symposium for Research in Child Language Disorders, Madison.
  3. Guo, L.Y., Owen Van Horne, A.J., & Tomblin, J.B., (2011).  The role of developmental levels in examining the effect of subject types on the production of auxiliary ‘is’ in young English-speaking children.  Journal of Speech, Language, & Hearing Research, 1658-1666. 
  4. Guo, L.Y., Owen, A.J., Tomblin, J.B., (2010). Effect of subject types on the production of auxiliary ‘is’ in young English-speaking children. Journal of Speech, Language, & Hearing Research, 53, 1720-1741
  5. Owen, A.J., & Goffman, L. (2007).  Acoustic correlates of finiteness in the speech of children with specific language impairment and their typically developing peers.  Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 21, 501-522.
  6. Owen, A.J., Dromi, E., & Leonard, L.B. (2001). The phonology-morphology interface in the speech of Hebrew-speaking children with specific language impairment.  Journal of Communication Disorders, 34, 323-337.