Beyond capacity limitations: determinants of word recall performance on verbal working memory span tasks in children with SLI.J Speech Lang Hear Res 2005; 48(4):897-909JS
Reduced verbal working memory capacity has been proposed as a possible account of language impairments in specific language impairment (SLI). Studies have shown, however, that differences in strength of linguistic representations in the form of word frequency affect list recall and performance on verbal working memory tasks. This suggests that verbal memory capacity and long-term linguistic knowledge may not be distinct constructs. It has been suggested that linguistic representations in SLI are weak in ways that result in a breakdown in language processing on tasks that require manipulation of unfamiliar material. In this study, the effects of word frequency, long-term linguistic knowledge, and serial order position on recall performance in the competing language processing task (CLPT) were investigated in 10 children with SLI and 10 age-matched peers (age 8 years 6 months to 12 years 4 months). The children with SLI recalled significantly fewer target words on the CLPT as compared with their age-matched controls. The SLI group did not differ, however, in their ability to recall target words having high word frequency but were significantly poorer in their ability to recall words on the CLPT having low word frequency. Differences in receptive and expressive language abilities also appeared closely related to performance on the CLPT, suggesting that working memory capacity is not distinct from language knowledge and that degraded linguistic representations may have an effect on performance on verbal working memory span tasks in children with SLI.