The Lab and Our Research

The Child Language Research Laboratory team consists of faculty and staff members, postdoctoral fellows, doctoral and masters level graduate students, and students at the undergraduate level. Since 1978, members of the lab have been conducting studies designed to uncover the nature of language disorders in children. Progress in understanding these disorders should lead to more effective intervention approaches and to methods of early identification.

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For much of this period, the research team has focused on children variously described as children with “specific language impairment,” “language delay,” or “language-learning disability.”  (We use the term “Language Impairment” or LI here, simply for consistency.) These children not only have significant difficulties acquiring spoken language but are also at risk for reading problems when they reach school age. They are a puzzle because factors often associated with language-learning deficits are not present in these children. Children with LI show normal hearing, age-appropriate scores on nonverbal tests of intelligence, and no evidence of neurological damage or disease. The prevalence of LI may be as high as 7% during the preschool years. (See Children with Language Impairment: The Focus of Our Research for more about these children.) 

The studies conducted by the research team have dealt with a wide variety of questions concerning the language comprehension and production abilities of preschool-age children with LI. In recent years, there have been three major lines of research, all funded generously by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health. 

Crosslinguistic Studies

In one line of research, we have studied the language comprehension and production characteristics of children with LI who were acquiring very different languages, in which grammatical notions such as past tense and possession are expressed in markedly divergent ways. The goal of this research is to discover the common denominator – the core of these children’s severe grammatical difficulties. Thus far, studies of English have been supplemented by investigations of Cantonese, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish. We are fortunate to be working with an excellent group of researchers who are experts in these particular languages. 

The Role of Input in Language Learning

In a second line of research, we have been testing the hypothesis that many of the grammatical errors made by children with LI have their source in the children’s misinterpretation of longer sentences that appear in their input. Even errors that seem blatantly ungrammatical (e.g., “Me do the dishes”) are identical to portions of larger, grammatical utterances that children hear (e.g., “Help me do the dishes”) To test this hypothesis, we have been using a variety of research methods, including novel verb learning tasks, picture-based comprehension activities, eye gaze measurements, electrophysiological techniques, and intervention procedures. 

Our Current Study (funded through 2021): Word Learning

Our most recent line of research concerns the word learning abilities of children with LI. These children have more limited vocabularies than their typically developing peers. In a new five-year project, we are testing procedures designed to significantly improve the children’s ability to learn new words. Our focus includes not only the children’s ability to associate a meaning with a new word but also to retain that new word and apply it in appropriate ways in their own speech. Studies are planned to help the children learn and retain new nouns, verbs, and adjectives. The children’s learning will be assessed through conventional tests as well as through eye gaze and electrophysiological measures. Current Studies: Participate!

 

Children with Language Impairment: The Focus of Our Research

For Parents, Clinicians, and Teachers: What We Offer

Current Studies: Participate!

Lab

Lyles-Porter Hall, Room 3182 
Phone: 765-496-2253
deevy@purdue.edu

Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences, Lyles-Porter Hall, 715 Clinic Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2122, PH: (765) 494-3789

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