Exploring Sentence Diversity at the Boundary of Typical and Impaired Language Abilities

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Purpose This review article summarizes programmatic research on sentence diversity in toddlers developing language typically and explores developmental patterns of sentence diversity in toddlers at risk for specific language impairment. Method The first half of this review article presents a sentence-focused approach to language assessment and intervention and reviews findings from empirical studies of sentence diversity. In the second half, subject and verb diversity in three simple sentence types are explored in an archival database of toddlers with varying levels of grammatical outcomes at 36 months of age: low average, mild/moderate delay, and severe delay. Results Descriptive findings from the archival database replicated previous developmental patterns. All toddlers with low-average language abilities produced diverse simple sentences by 30 months of age and exhibited greater sentence diversity with first-person I-subjects before third-person subjects. Third-person subject diversity emerged in a developmental sequence, increasing in one-argument copula contexts and one-argument subject-verb sentences before two-argument subject-verb-object sentences. This developmental pattern held across all three outcome groups. Third-person subjects were least diverse for children with severe grammatical delays and were absent in all sentence contexts for two children with severe delays at 36 months. Conclusions Sentence diversity increases gradually and expands in predictable patterns. Understanding these developmental patterns may help identify and treat children who display unexpected difficulty combining different subjects and verbs in flexible ways. Supplemental Material and Presentation Video https://doi.org/10.23641/asha.12915320.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3236-3251
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of speech, language, and hearing research : JSLHR
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 16 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Speech and Hearing
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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