Paola Colozzo

Associate Professor

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Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Temporality in the narratives of children with Specific Language Impairment and typically developing children (2016)

Purpose: This study examined the use of linguistic devices to express time— temporality –in the narrative productions of a group of children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) compared to typically developing (TD) peers. Method: Participants formed two age-matched groups of 5- to 8-year-old children (SLI, n = 28; TD, n = 28; M age = 6 years;10 months). Each child produced two narratives from multi-episode wordless picture books that were transcribed and coded for temporal grammatical and lexical markers: past or present tense (e.g., jumps, jumped), simple or progressive aspect (built, was building), aspectual verbs (e.g., start, finish), connectors (e.g., and then, before, while), and other temporal expressions (e.g., later, again, suddenly, quite a while). Results: Children with SLI showed differences in expressing temporality using grammatical markers compared to TD peers. The children with SLI had more tense omissions in obligatory tense marking contexts (e.g., The frog *jump) and more frequent unmotivated tense shifting. As a result, fewer children with SLI used a consistent verb tense throughout their narratives, i.e., an anchor tense. Nonetheless, both groups used the past tense more often than the present tense, and children who had an anchor tense tended to tell their stories in the past. Both groups showed a preference for using simple over progressive aspect. Present progressive forms, which are generally associated with a picture-description mode, were in the minority for both groups. The children with SLI did, however, produce fewer complex progressive forms (e.g., he tries finding) compared to TD peers. Regarding lexical markers of temporality, the groups generally performed similarly in terms of the frequency of use of aspectual verbs, sequential or simultaneous temporal connectors, and other temporal expressions. Conclusion: This study highlights that 5- to 8 year-old children with SLI showed a relative strength in their use of lexical compared to grammatical markers of temporality in narratives they produced from wordless picture books. This study adds to the limited research on temporarily in narratives of children with or without SLI. It has implications for interventionists and educators who use narrative production for assessment and intervention.

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Updating skills and character referencing in children with specific language impairment (2012)

Specific language impairment (SLI) involves unexpected delays in language development that are deemed primary, rather than secondary to other developmental issues. This study investigated executive functioning and referencing abilities in children with SLI. Referencing is a complex task that may particularly depend on working memory (WM) resources, specifically in terms of updating abilities. Updating entails the active manipulation of WM contents by replacing older information with newer and more relevant information. If both linguistic abilities and processing resources are critical for adequate referencing, then children with SLI would be particularly vulnerable in this area. There is limited evidence regarding updating skills in children, referencing abilities in SLI, and the possible influence of updating on language production.A group of 12 children with SLI aged 5 to 8 years were matched to 12 same-age typically developing (TD) peers. The children completed updating, short-term memory (STM), and story-telling tasks. Compared to the children with TD, the children with SLI performed significantly poorer on all updating tasks and also consistently exhibited lower overall referential adequacy, but whether this applied to both nominal and pronominal forms depended on the story. There were also many parallels, however, between the groups in terms of referencing. Specifically, each group responded similarly to story differences and to the demands of the various referential functions (introduction, maintenance, and reintroduction) in terms of the frequency of character references, the referential types selected, and patterns of referential adequacy. Regarding the relationship between WM and referencing, visual STM was the only memory task that correlated significantly with referential adequacy in the SLI group. In contrast, updating did correlate significantly with referential adequacy in the TD group. It is still possible that updating plays a role in the ability to adequately refer to characters in both groups, but this relationship could be mediated or overshadowed by limitations in basic storage capacity or by linguistic factors for children with SLI in this developmental window. Due to the small number of participants in this study, the results regarding the relationship between updating abilities and referential adequacy are tentative and require replication with a larger sample.

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Who's Who: Memory Updating and Character Reference in Children's Narratives (2010)

This study investigated whether individual differences in working memory updating and adequate reference to story characters in narrative discourse were related in a group of typically-developing children from kindergarten through second grade. It also documented developmental trends in both of these abilities, and examined factors that may have contributed to the difficulty of clearly referring to story characters. The results indicate that the ability to update working memory is related to referential adequacy in children 5 to 8 years of age, with all three updating tasks (visual, auditory, and verbal) correlating moderately and significantly with referential adequacy scores. The participants were most successful when maintaining reference to story characters, and had more difficulty when introducing and reintroducing characters. An analysis of the three referential functions showed that updating was significantly related to children’s adequate maintenance and reintroduction scores. The strongest relationship occurred between updating and maintenance, which was unexpected, and may be specific to this developmental window when children are continuing to develop the linguistic skills required for clearly referring to characters. The bivariate correlations among the updating tasks were all moderate and significant. The consistent correlations amongst the updating tasks, as well as the significant moderate correlation between the visual updating task and referential adequacy, suggest that domain-general resources are involved in updating. This study is the first to investigate the possible link between updating abilities and language production in children. Although these findings are preliminary, they point to a relationship between updating and adequate reference to story characters in narrative production in 5- to 8-year-old children.

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