The Role of Linguistic Information in Learning Abstract Words: Evidence from Children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI)


Accounts of abstract word learning suggest that learning these words relies primarily on access to linguistic cues, such as the statistical co-occurrence of words with similar semantic properties. Thus, children with language impairment (LI), who by definition have impoverished access to linguistic context, should have disproportionate impairments in abstract word knowledge. Here, we compared verbal definitions and lexical decisions to both abstract and concrete words of children with LI (ages 8 to 13) and both age-matched and vocabulary-matched typically developing (TD) peers. Relative to age-matched peers, children with LI had significant deficits in both tasks. Crucially, however, there was not greater impairment of abstract words. We conclude that that linguistic knowledge is not a sine qua non to learning abstract words and concepts and other mechanisms, which are not specifically impaired in LI, are at play.

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