Applied Psycholinguistics

Syllable structure development of toddlers with expressive specific language impairment

a1 University of Maryland, College Park
a2 Bryn Mawr College


A total of 35 children – 20 with expressive specific language impairment (SLI-E) and 15 typically developing (TD) peers – were compared longitudinally from 24 to 36 months with respect to their production of syllable shapes in 10-minute spontaneous speech samples. SLI-E 24-month-olds predominantly produced earlier developing syllable shapes containing vowels, liquids, and glides. TD 24-month-olds and SLI-E 36-month-olds produced approximately the same proportion of syllable types, with the exception of consonant clusters, where TD 24-month-olds produced more than SLI-E 36-month-olds. TD children at 36 months showed the greatest use of syllable shapes containing two different consonants and consonant clusters. Detailed analyses revealed that SLI-E children produced fewer syllable shapes containing final consonants, more than one consonant type, and consonant clusters. Furthermore, the children with SLI-E were found to vocalize less often than their TD peers. The possible relationships between these findings, SLI-E children's concomitant deficits in morphology and syntax, and the implications for diagnosis and remediation are discussed.

c1 Nan Bernstein Ratner, Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742. Email: