While most children acquire language with ease, some experience severe difficulties with language acquisition. This negatively impacts their academic outcomes and social-emotional well-being. If the language difficulties have no clear cause, these children are usually diagnosed with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD).
Language acquisition is facilitated by (a) the quantity and quality of input and (b) the ability to detect linguistic structure from the input (“statistical learning”). It is an empirical question how the nature of the input affects statistical learning in children with and without DLD. Research on children’s learning of linguistic structure has focused almost exclusively on children’s ability to detect structure from the input rather than the role that input itself plays in this detection. However, as children learn language from the input they receive, it is important to also understand how characteristics of the input boost (or hinder) children’s acquisition of linguistic structure. This is even more important in the educational context of Dutch children with DLD. These children either go to special education, hence receiving input from peers with language problems, or regular education, where peers display normal language development.
Therefore, this project investigates how the nature of children’s peer language affects language acquisition.
Study 1 constructs a unique corpus of spoken peer languages in the two educational settings. The corpus addresses a frequently heard – but never empirically tested – concern that peer language in special education contains less linguistic structure than peer language in regular education.
Study 2 experimentally investigates whether more structured linguistic input facilitates language learning for children with and without DLD.
The hypotheses are that children with DLD in regular education receive more structured peer language input than these children in special education (Study 1) and that this is beneficial for language acquisition because high-structured input boosts statistical learning (Study 2).