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BACKGROUND: It is well documented that children with specific language impairment (SLI) experience significant grammatical deficits. While much of the focus in the past has been on morphosyntactic difficulties, less is known about their acquisition of multi-clausal constructions such as those containing relative clauses. AIMS: To investigate relative clause constructions in English-speaking, school-aged children with SLI using a sentence-recall task. METHODS & PROCEDURES: Children with SLI (mean age = 6;10; n = 32) and two control groups, a typically developing group matched for age (AM-TD; mean age = 6;11; n = 32) and a younger typically developing group (YTD; mean age = 4;9; n = 20), repeated sentences that contained relative clauses which represented a range of syntactic roles. The relative clauses were attached either to the predicate nominal of a copular clause or to the direct object of a transitive clause. OUTCOMES & RESULTS: Children with SLI showed significantly greater difficulty than both the AM-TD and the YTD groups overall, but found some relative clause types easier than others, displaying a similar profile to typically developing children but at a lower level of performance. CONCLUSIONS & IMPLICATIONS: Children with SLI who are close to 7 years of age have significantly greater difficulty with relative clauses than their age peers and typically developing children who are on average 2 years younger. Their performance is influenced by the matrix clause type, the role of the relativized element within the relative clause, and in object relative clauses, lexical choices within the matrix clause and the relative clause.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Lang Commun Disord

Publication Date





255 - 264


Child, Child Language, Child, Preschool, Female, Humans, Language Development, Language Development Disorders, Language Tests, Language Therapy, Male, Mental Recall, Semantics, Vocabulary