Tense and finiteness in the speech of children with specific language impairment acquiring Hebrew

Laurence L. Leonard, Esther Dromi, Galit Adam, Sara Zadunaisky-Ehrlich

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30 Scopus citations


Verb morphology is often an area of extraordinary difficulty for children with specific language impairment (SLI). However, in Hebrew, this difficulty appears to be more circumscribed than in other languages. In a recent study by Dromi et. al., the limitations exhibited by a group of Hebrew-speaking children with SLI were confined primarily to the use of agreement inflections within past tense. This difficulty was interpreted as being due to the fact that the agreement paradigm within past tense is rather complex (involving person, number, and gender, along with tense). This study explores another possibility - that these inflections were difficult because they required past tense in particular. Also determined was whether the children's frequent use of the morphologically simplest forms (such as past third person masculine singular) in place of the correct forms could be interpreted as their selection of a non-finite default form. A group of Hebrew-speaking children with SLI (age 4;2 to 6;1) participated, along with a group of age controls, and a group of younger normally developing children matched for mean length of utterance (MLU). The children listened to stories that were accompanied by pictures. During each story, the children completed the experimenter's incomplete sentences using appropriate verbs. To complete the sentences accurately, the children had to alter the tense or finiteness of the verb used by the experimenter in the preceding sentence. The results indicated that the children with SLI had more difficulty than both comparison groups in the production of basic present and past forms and infinitive forms of verbs that required use of one particular phonological template or 'binyan'. However, for the verbs requiring the remaining three phonological templates, the children with SLI were as capable as MLU controls in their command of past as well as present tense, and in their use of infinitive forms. It is concluded that tense and finiteness probably do not form the core of the problem faced by Hebrew-speaking children with SLI in the area of verb morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-335
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Language and Communication Disorders
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000


FundersFunder number
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication DisordersR01DC000458


    • Grammatical morphology
    • Hebrew
    • Specific language impairment


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