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Asking and Answering Questions: Theory & Research Based Intervention

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Mastery of later developing syntactic forms such as Yes/No and Wh- Questions is especially problematic for children with language impairments, as well as for English language learners. Children who are learning to understand and respond to questions need to learn many semantic (meaning) and syntactic (structure) subtleties. Deficits in the ability to ask and answer questions can have a serious impact on students' development of communication, reading comprehension, and classroom performance. This paper reviews some of the features of questions from a linguistic and pragmatic perspective as well as in relation to children who struggle to comprehend more complex language forms in general.
Asking and Answering Questions;
Theory & Research Based Intervention
Mary Sweig Wilson, Ph.D. (CCC-SLP)
Bernard J. Fox, M.S. (CCC-SLP)
Jeffrey P. Pascoe, Ph.D.
Laureate Learning Systems, Inc.
110 East Spring Street, Winooski, Vermont 05404
Current language research highlights the importance of
syntactic competence. Yet mastery of later developing
syntactic forms such as Yes/No-Questions (e.g. Is the boy
reading?) and Wh-Questions (Why did the man climb the
ladder?) is especially problematic for children with language
impairments (including those with Autism Spectrum
Disorders, Cognitive Disabilities, and Specific Language
Impairments), as well as for English language learners (ELL).
Children who are learning to understand and respond to
questions need to learn many semantic (meaning) and
syntactic (structure) subtleties. Deficits in the ability to ask
and answer questions have a serious impact on students’
development of communication, classroom performance,
and on the development of reading comprehension. Indeed,
the Supporting Research section of the Common Core State
Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy states:
“Oral language development precedes and is the
foundation for written language development; in
other words, oral language is primary and written
language builds on it. Children’s oral language
competence is strongly predictive of their facility in
learning to read and write: listening and speaking
vocabulary and even mastery of syntax set boundaries
as to what children can read and understand no
matter how well they can decode” (Common Core
State Standards Initiative, June, 2010)
In this connection, it is well established that preschoolers
with semantic-syntactic language deficits are at much greater
risk for reading disabilities during their school years, with
early syntactic ability seeming to be an especially important
variable (Bishop & Adams, 1990; Catts, 1993; Catts, Adolf,
& Weismer, 2006; Scarborough, 2001). A meta-analysis
by the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP; 2009),
for example, noted that oral language was particularly
related to later literacy achievement when this variable
was defined in terms of grammar and receptive language
comprehension (as opposed to, for example, vocabulary
knowledge). An epidemiologic study (Catts, Fey, Tomblin,
& Zhang, 2002) examined the reading ability of second
and fourth graders in a sample of more than three hundred
children who had been identified in kindergarten as having
language impairments (Tomblin, Records, Buckwalter,
et al., 1997), and found that, as a group, these children
scored significantly below matched controls on word
recognition and reading comprehension. In fact, about half
of the children with language impairments met criteria for
having a reading disability in second grade (52.9%) and in
fourth grade (48.1%). Academic difficulties associated with
language delays also tend to persist through the later school
years (e.g., Dockrell, Lindsay, & Connelly, 2009; Kelso,
Fletcher, & Lee, 2007). One study found that 40 percent
of preschoolers with language impairments continued to
have a significant impairment at follow-up some four to five
years later, and many had been held back a grade in school
or were receiving special services for learning disabilities
(Aram & Nation, 1980; Aram, Ekelman, and Nation,
A central theme in linguistics and language acquisition
research concerns just how language is learned – what are
the myriad cues that neurotypically developing children so
efficiently exploit as they learn language from their receptive
language environment? And to the extent that this can
be determined, what is the best means to facilitate this
process with children who are not acquiring language in a
typical manner? Underscoring the biological underpinnings
of these issues are observations concerning the emergence
of language in neurotypically developing children, which is
remarkably rapid and follows a similar course universally;
children all over the world learning thousands of different
languages do so in a very similar manner. First words
emerge, word combinations occur, and syntax is mastered
at about the same very young age regardless of language
or culture. There are also striking commonalities across all
human languages that extend to both language structure
and the syntactic operations involved in using language to
express human thought. Arising from these observations is
the widely accepted biolinguistic view that the capacity for
language is a species-specific endowment, and that language
acquisition by human children is generally assured because
the process is supported and guided by an innate language
faculty, or Universal Grammar (Berwick & Chomsky,
in press; Hauser, Chomsky, & Fitch, 2002; Laka, 2009).
Because our inborn human language capacity orchestrates
language acquisition, neurotypically developing children
Special Needs Software
need only language exposure, i.e., linguistic input, to
acquire language, at least insofar as acquisition of the formal
grammar component (vocabulary and syntax) is concerned.
The grammar of a language is composed of the lexicon (the
“dictionary” of lexical items/words in the language) and
the syntactic computational system that assembles lexical
items into sentences. The important distinction here is
that, while the ability to use words for communication
in social settings, i.e., pragmatics, is developed through
communicative interaction, acquisition of the grammar of a
language is accomplished through listening; it is dependent
upon receptive language input (Pinker, 1994; Radford, 1990;
Wexler, 1998).
Noam Chomsky’s Principles and Parameters Theory
(Chomsky, 1981) and its refinement under the more
recent Minimalist Program (Chomsky, 1995) provides a
descriptive and explanatory framework for much of the
current linguistic research concerning Universal Grammar.
The guiding assertion is that Universal Grammar can be
described as a fixed and invariant set of Principles that
do not have to be learned because they are common to
all languages and a small set of Parameters that vary in
binary fashion across languages and are “set” by receptive
exposure to a particular language. (e.g., Atkinson, 1992;
Baker, 2001; Hornstein, Nunes, & Grohmann, 2005;
Radford, 2004, 2009). The acquisition of the grammar
component (lexicon and syntax) of a language can thus be
viewed as a matter of properly “setting” the grammatical
Parameters and learning the lexicon through exposure to
appropriate receptive input.
The Lexicon. Within the Minimalist Program, the lexicon
has taken on a far more important role than in earlier
generative grammar proposals. The representation of
a word in the lexicon includes not only phonological and
semantic properties (i.e., sound and meaning), but also
syntactic features such as categorial membership (e.g.,
whether it is a noun, verb, adjective, etc.), inflectional
behavior (i.e., how the word is marked for number, person,
and gender), and in the case of verbs, syntactic argument
structure (e.g., run requires only one argument, a subject
The girl runs”; kiss requires two arguments, a subject and
an object The father kisses the baby”; and give typically
requires three arguments “The girl gives the baby a toy.”).
In other words, the Minimalist position is that a complete
lexical entry includes the specific roles a word can play in the
structure of language and the appropriate form of that word
in any given grammatical context. These properties of the
lexicon are especially relevant here insofar as intervention
is concerned. The lexicon is learned, which means by
understanding the nature of it, we can use intervention
strategies to teach lexical items and their grammatical
properties to children with language disorders.
A critical concept in current linguistic theory is the
distinction between the two divisions of the lexicon, the
Lexical and Functional Categories. The Lexical Category
includes the familiar nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Lexical
Category words comprise an open class in the sense
that new words are continually joining their ranks; e.g.,
nouns (tweet, staycation), verbs (twittering, blogging), and
adjectives (green-collar, spacey; see Baker, 2003). The
Functional Category is a closed class of words and forms
that serve essentially grammatical functions. This includes
Determiners, Tense, and Complementizers.
Determiners are associated with nouns and are so-called
because they specify (or determine) that to which a noun
expression refers. Determiners include, for example: the
articles aand “the”; Prenominal Determiners (e.g. this,
that, these, those); Pronouns (e.g. I, you, me, his, her); and
Anaphors or Reflexives (e.g. myself, himself, themselves).
Tense is associated with verbs and includes elements that
inflect verbs for tense and agreement. Tense includes,
for example, Negation (e.g., is/is not and does/does not),
Future Modal “will” ( He will run), the Regular Past Tense
–ed ( She painted the chairs), Infinitival “to” (He likes
to run), Copular and Auxiliary “be” (He is big. They are
running), and Third Person Singular –s( The boy runs).
Complementizers are associated with clauses. In addition
to words which mark complement clauses such as that,
if, and whether, Complementizers play a central role in
forming both Yes/No- and Wh-Questions.
Traditionally, Prepositions were considered to be among the
Lexical Categories. More recently, however, linguists have
presented arguments for including Prepositions among the
Functional Categories (Baker, 2003: Moro, 2008). Like the
other members of that group, Prepositions are a closed
class of words. While languages freely add nouns, verbs,
and adjectives to the lexicon, this is not the case with the
Functional Categories.
The acquisition of Functional Category forms is critical
because they are essential to the comprehension and
production of sentences. Indeed, the hierarchical nature of
sentence structure emerges as the Functional Categories
are acquired. Functional Categories begin to appear in
the language of neurotypically developing children when
they enter the two-word stage of language development
(approximately 18-24 months; Bohnacker, 1997; Brown,
1973; Engle, 1978; Fenson, et al., 1994; Spaulding, 1980).
Children at this early stage will, for example, begin to use
possessive “’s (e.g., Daddy’s hat), and produce forms such
as Determiner No (e.g., No shoe). As such, we know that
very young language learners are processing Functional
Category information to at least some extent starting very
early on. Children in the early word combination stage may
produce bare nouns and verbs, such as Ball roll, but these
do not exist in adult English. In adult English the sentence
The ball is rolling includes the Determiner “the and the
Tense element “is.” In sentences generated by competent
language users, nouns combine or Merge with Determiners
and become Determiner Phrases (DP). Similarly, verbs
combine or Merge with Tense elements and become Tense
Phrases (TP). This step is critical because the information
provided by the Functional Categories serves to “erect a
syntactic skeleton above lexical category forms which serves
to hold together the various syntactic relations that take place
in the phrase. (Adger 2003, p. 165).
Unfortunately, Functional Category forms are especially
problematic for children with language disorders. In fact,
one clinical marker for children with language impairment is
the absence or relative infrequency of Functional Category
elements in their speech (e.g., Bedore & Leonard, 1998;
Leonard, 1998; Rice, 1998; Rice, Wexler, & Hershberger,
1998; Roeper & Seymour, 1994; see also Trantham &
Pedersen, 1976; Wilson & Pascoe, 1999). One report
(Rice, 1998), for example, described the use of Tense forms
in 5-year-olds with language impairments and age-matched
controls. Only one of 37 children with impairments used
obligatory Tense forms more than 60% of the time, whereas
all but one of the 45 children in the control group used these
forms with 75% or greater accuracy.
Given the critical role of Functional Category forms in the
process of language learning and grammar, and the fact
that these are a particular area of weakness in children with
language impairment, Functional Category training should
play a central role in all intervention plans for children
with language impairments. Since Functional Category
forms are learned as part of the language development
process, they can be taught. Next we’ll look at a linguist’s
view of sentence construction which will help readers
understand why an approach to syntax intervention which
concentrates on teaching Functional Category forms and
their associated structures makes sense.
The Syntactic Computational System. In the Minimalist
Program the syntactic component is seen as ideally linking
sound and meaning. The innate Computational System
of Human Language (CHL; Chomsky, 1995) serves to
generate sentences by combining Lexical and Functional
category items into hierarchical sentence structures in
keeping with the Principles of Universal Grammar and
the Parameters of the language being spoken. Unlike in
past generative grammar proposals, only two operations
are involved in sentence construction. Merge combines
elements by bringing new components into the structure
and for this reason has more recently been referred to
as External Merge. The other operation is Move which
repositions components within the structure and hence
is more recently referred to as Internal Merge (Chomsky,
2002; 2009; Radford, 2009).
Consider the generation of the simple sentence “He is
hitting the ball. Although the sound stream we hear is
linear, sentences themselves are assembled hierarchically
from the bottom up. As counterintuitive as this might
seem on the surface, think about the construction of a
building; you have to start at the foundation. Only after
the foundation has been laid and the walls erected can
you add the roof. To build our sentence the first step will
be to combine or Merge the and ball. When two forms
Merge, one becomes the Head of the resulting phrase
and a hierarchical structure is formed. When Functional
Category forms such as theMerge with Lexical forms
such as the noun “ball,” the Functional form becomes the
Head of the phrase. Thus our first step of Merging the
and “ball yields the Determiner Phrase “the ball.” From
the first step in sentence construction, then, we see the
important role Functional Category forms play...they erect
the structure of sentences. Without them you have only
strings of words, not sentences. Next, the Determiner
Phrase “the ball”, which is the Complement or Object of
the sentence, Merges with the verb hitting.” The verb
assigns the Object its semantic role; in this case, recipient
of the action. The third step is to Merge the phrase hitting
the ball with the Specifier (or Subject) he. Although
this Pronoun, a Determiner, will move later, it enters the
computation here because the verb assigns the semantic
role to its Subject (in this case the semantic role is Agent).
Fig. 1 illustrates the hierarchical structure built in these first
three steps.
The last two steps in the generation of our simple sentence
are shown in Figure 2.
The fourth step is to Merge the Verb Phrase he hitting the
ball with the Tense element “is which occupies the Head
position of the Tense Phrase. Finally, the Pronoun hehas to
be copied and moved from the Specifier or Subject position
of the Verb Phrase to the Specifier or Subject position of
the Tense Phrase (also in Fig. 2). Movement never takes
place unless it is necessary, i.e., is motivated by a linguistic
requirement. Here, “he” moves into the Specifier position
of the Tense Phrase because it is in this position that the
Tense element ensures the Subject is in Nominative Case.
Whenever an element is copied and moved, it is only
pronounced or spoken in its relocated position.
The Functional Category forms of Determiner and Tense
are apparent in the sentence structure in Figure 2. Simple
sentences can be generated with only Determiners and
Tense. But the production of questions requires the
presence of the third Functional Category, Complementizer.
Questions can only be generated with a Complementizer
Phrase. To illustrate this, we’ll look at converting our simple
sentence “He is hitting the ball into the Yes/No-Question,
Is he hitting the ball? In Figure 3, the Tense Phrase has
been Merged with a Complementizer Phrase and the
Tense Head “is” moves into the Head position of the
Complementizer Phrase (Auxiliary inversion).
Note that in Yes/No-Questions the Specifier (Subject)
position in the Complementizer Phrase is marked as null
Now let’s turn to Wh-Questions. In Figure 4, the Wh-
Element “What” at the end of the sentence must be
moved to the Specifier or Subject position within the
Complementizer Phrase to produce the sentence What is
he hitting? This form of Wh-Question is referred to as an
Object Question as it requires moving the Object of the
verb from within the Verb Phrase to the Specifier position
of the Complementizer Phrase at the front of the sentence.
This is in contrast to Subject Questions like “What is on
the table?”, which are easier for children with language
disorders to comprehend and produce (e.g., Ebbels & van
der Lely, 2001; Leonard, 1995; Leonard, Eyer, Bedore &
Grela, 1997; Marinis & van der Lely, 2007; Rice, Hoffman,
& Wexler, 2009; Roeper & Seymour, 1994; van der Lely &
Battel, 2003).
A more detailed discussion of the syntactic computational
system is beyond the scope of this narrative, but clearly,
going through the steps of building simple sentences and
questions illustrates the critical role played by Functional
Category forms in the comprehension and production of
sentences. Children who are struggling with the Functional
Categories, as are over 7% of children in the kindergarten
population (Tomblin, et al., 1997), will clearly be at a
tremendous disadvantage when attempting to form even
simple phrases for use in sentences. These children will also
be at a total loss when striving to comprehend syntactically
rich, recursive, hierarchically structured spoken and
written language. These are precisely the sort of receptive
language deficits that research has suggested cannot be
addressed effectively in social communication contexts
(e.g., Law, Garrett & Nye, 2004), and that are associated
with later academic disabilities (e.g., NELP, 2009). What
seems clear is that Functional Category forms and their
associated structures should be a focus of intervention.
Functional Category forms are part of the lexicon. The
lexicon is learned. What’s learned is teachable. With
proven instructional strategies we can teach Functional
Category forms to children with language disorders to help
them master syntax and become better students.
Problems with the Semantics
and Syntax of Questions
Clinical examples of production, comprehension, and
grammaticality judgment errors with Yes/No- and Wh-
Questions are common, and many investigators have
documented problems in children with language impairment
related to movement and auxiliary inversion (e.g., Ebbels &
van der Lely, 2001; Leonard, 1995; Leonard, Eyer, Bedore
& Grela, 1997; Rice, Hoffman, & Wexler, 2009; Roeper &
Seymour, 1994; Trantham & Pedersen, 1976; van der Lely
& Battel, 2003).
Under a variety of conditions, the comprehension and
production of Subject Questions appears to be easier than
Object Questions for children with language impairments
(Deevy & Leonard, 2004; Levy & Friedmann, 2009; van
der Lely & Battel, 2003). It has been suggested that Object
Questions are more difficult for these children because,
after movement, the arguments in the sentence are no
longer in canonical Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order.
This makes it more difficult to “guess” at meaning based on
surface form. Similar difficulties arise with other sentence
forms that involve movement in English, such as passives
(e.g. The mouse is chased by the cat). Subject Questions
are easier presumably because there are no overt word
order differences between the interrogative and declarative
forms. The only apparent change is the substitution of the
Wh-word for the Subject, which is already in its required
position at the front of the clause.
Linguists will argue, however, that forming Subject
Questions does in fact involve “covert” Wh-movement
(from the Specifier position of the Tense Phrase to the
Specifier position of the Complementizer Phrase) and
Auxiliary inversion (from the Head of the Tense Phrase to
the Head of the Complementizer Phrase), just as in the
case of Object Questions. Supporting this view is research
examining the patterns of grammatical errors that children
with language impairment are prone to make with Subject
Questions. These errors appear to reveal gaps and defects
in the underlying sentence structure, and do so in ways
that imply a disordered attempt at completing movement
operations comparable to those required when forming
Object Questions.
Here, for example, are Subject Question errors made by
children in a study that involved the elicitation of questions
from older school-age children with significant grammatical
impairments. The stimulus sentences are followed by the
children’s responses (van der Lely & Battel, 2003):
1. Something was in Mrs. Brown’s desk. Ask me what.
What something in Mrs. Brown’s desk?
2. Someone carried a bag. Ask me who.
Who carry her bag?
In example [1] the Determiner Phrase “something appears
for no reason and the Tense form was(past tense auxiliary
“be”) has been omitted. In [2] the child does not include
the past Tense -ed marking on the verb.
These Subject Question errors are not consistent with the
notion that children are, for example, “cutting grammatical
corners” by simply swapping a Wh-word into the Subject
position. There appears to be much more going on than
that. The investigators speculated that, rather than Moving
Wh-words from the Specifier position of the Tense Phrase
into the Specifier position of the Complementizer Phrase
and leaving behind a copy, as should occur, the children
might be attempting to Merge Wh-words directly from the
lexicon into the Specifier position of the Complementizer
Phrase. Consequently, the properties of the copy where
Wh-movement should have originated are not taken into
account – there is no checking relation established. This
in turn would lead to a syntactic “crash” and the various
forms of errors observed.
Object Questions, as we have seen, involve overt Wh-
movement and Auxiliary inversion, and clearly seem to be
more difficult for children with language impairment. In the
research just described, children with language impairment
correctly formed Subject Questions 63% of the time,
whereas they correctly formed Object Questions just 49%
of the time (van der Lely & Battel, 2003). In contrast,
younger children (7:4-9:1) in a neurotypically developing
control group matched on vocabulary comprehension
formed both Subject and Object Questions with 96%
accuracy. Even younger children (5:3-7:4) in a second
control group, having significantly lower vocabulary scores
but matched to the language impaired group on the basis
of grammatical ability, correctly formed Subject Questions
83% of the time and Object Questions 76% of the time.
While neurotypically developing children have some
difficulty correctly producing Wh-Questions until
kindergarten and beyond, that is not true of comprehension.
Evidence gathered using the preferential looking paradigm
in which an infant is told a sentence that corresponds to one
of two displays suggests that toddlers with typical language
development can comprehend simple Subject Questions
at 15 months, and Object Questions at 20 months of age.
This was evidenced by their preferential attention to the
correct images for questions like “What did the apple hit?
and What hit the apple? (Seidl, Hollich, & Jusczyk, 2003).
Prior research has established that toddlers in this same age
range understand canonical SVO word order in English
sentences (Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek, Cauley, & Gordon,
1987; Hirsh-Pasek et. al., 1985) which is evidence that the
two parameters determining SVO word order have been
“set” by receptive language exposure. Considered together,
the data from these studies suggests that once canonical
word order is established it is not such a great leap to
understand that a Wh-word can stand in for an unspecified
Subject or Object argument even when an unspecified
Object has been moved to the front of the sentence.
The linguistic accomplishments of children with typical
language development stand in stark contrast to the
abilities of many older children with language impairments.
In many cases, individuals with impairments have
tremendous difficulty comprehending sentences that
involve syntactic movement and deviate from canonical
word order. Fortunately, research suggests that language
intervention targeting these sentence forms can produce
significant and lasting improvements in both comprehension
and production (Ebbels & van der Lely, 2001; Levy &
Friedmann, 2009; Thompson, Shapiro, Ballard, et al., 1997).
Additional Features of Language Related Questions
The syntax of simple questions as described above provides
the grammatical foundation for asking, understanding, and
answering questions and should clearly be a central focus
for language intervention. Yet mastery of questions also
requires learning about other grammatical, semantic, and
pragmatic features of language that are directly related to
questions, and a comprehensive approach to intervention
must address these as well.
It is certainly important, for example, to establish whether
children clearly understand the semantic meaning of various
Wh-Words (interrogative operators). In English, these Wh-
words (with the obvious exception of how) have in common
an initial “Wh- sound which, taken together with their
usual sentence-initial position, can serve as a salient cue
that an interrogative sentence follows. Such phonetic cues
are seen in other languages as well (e.g., qu-in French and
Spanish, hv- in Norwegian and Danish, sh- in Chinese).
As lexical items, the Wh-words in English can be conceived
of semantically as a conflation of what and a related lexical
item. In some cases a phonetic conflation is apparent as
well (e.g., deVilliers, Roeper, Bland-Stewart, & Pearson,
2008; Roeper, 2007, p. 173):
Who what + person
What what + thing
Where (wh+here) what + place
When (wh+then) what + time
Why what + reason (cause/purpose)
How what + manner/means
Three of the Wh-Words, who, what, and where, can
substitute for the obligatory arguments of the main verb
of a sentence. The verb put, for example, requires three
arguments; a subject, an object, and an indirect object. One
might say, for example, “John put the milk in the bowl. In
forming a question about this event, any or all of these verb
arguments can be replaced by a thematically appropriate
Wh-word, as in “Who put what where?” Questions like
these that solicit information concerning the obligatory
verb arguments are sometimes called argument questions.
These questions may be easier for new language learners
to respond to because they can be answered by supplying
the requested verb argument(s).
Other Wh-Words do not stand in for obligatory verb
arguments, but instead solicit additional (aka adjunctive)
information that could be added to a basic sentence
as an optional word, phrase, or clause. Knowing, for
example, that “The officer put sugar in the bowl,” one still
might ask how (...with a scoop), why (...because it was
empty), or where ( the kitchen) ...the officer put sugar
in the bowl. Questions like these requesting adjunctive
information are sometimes called adjunct questions.
Note that where can be used in adjunct as well as
argument questions.
Some Wh-Words can have more than one semantic
connotation. For example, how questions may be used to
request identification of a tool or object or other means
used to accomplish a goal; e.g., How is the monkey opening
the box?...with a key. Yet how questions are also used
to request characterization of the manner in which the
activity is being performed; e.g., How is the girl dancing?...
on her toes. Similarly, why questions may be used to
request identification of pre-existing circumstances causing
or motivating an action; e.g., “Why is the boy leaving the
tent?...because the skunks are coming in.”, or they may be
used to request identification of the intended result of the
action, as in the goal or purpose; e.g., “Why is the mother
opening the cooler? get popsicles for the kids.
The grammatical properties of Wh-Words also enable them
to refer to a variable number of items in a set. As such, the
correct response to a Wh-Question may involve identifying
a single element of a set, a subset of the set, or all of a set.
In response to questions such as What is Grandpa selling?
for example, it would be inappropriate to identify just one
item he’s selling if more items are present. An exhaustive
response is required (even if one simply names the whole
set by responding, A lot of stuff”). Asking Who is washing
the car?” also calls for an exhaustive response, identifying
each instance that satisfies the specified set criteria; i.e.,
all the people who are washing the car. In some American
dialects, the exhaustivity requirement is marked explicitly,
as in “Who all is going to town?”
Understanding the set properties of Wh-Questions is an
essential step in acquiring competence with question
forms. Developmental research shows that most four-year-
olds do not provide an exhaustive response in obligatory
contexts, but instead provide a “singleton” response; i.e.,
they tend to identify just one member of the requested set.
In one experiment, English-speaking children were shown,
for example, a picture of five boys, three of whom were
holding soccer balls. They were then asked, Who is holding
a soccer ball? A total of eight pictures of this sort were
used in testing. Four-year-old subjects provided a singleton
response 79% of the time, whereas six-year-olds provided
an exhaustive response 75% of the time. Responses
indicating more than one but less than all members of
the set were rare, leading the researchers to suggest that
typically developing children in this age range move directly
from a singleton assumption to an understanding that Wh-
Questions require an exhaustive response (Roeper, Schultz,
Pearson, & Reckling, 2007).
Responding appropriately to a Wh-Question also requires
close attention to the syntax of the entire question, not
just the semantics of the interrogative operator. As noted
earlier, for example, the difference between Subject and
Object Questions lies not in the interrogative operator (nor,
it seems, in the movement operations involved), but rather
in the location of the Wh-copy in the sentence; e.g., Who
who is hugging the girl? versus Who is the girl hugging
who? As was noted in the last section, recognizing the
position of the Wh-copy in the sentence requires knowledge
of canonical sentence structure, and the ability to recognize
whether a question pertains to the Subject or Object of the
sentence. Beyond this, the syntax of the phrase containing
the copy of the Wh-element is critical as well. Two very
different responses are called for when one is asked, What
is the boy eating what?” versus What is the boy eating
with what? In the first question the copy accommodates
a simple Determiner Phrase naming the item being eaten
(e.g., a salad). The copy in the second question calls for a
Determiner Phrase that completes a Prepositional Phrase
(e.g., with a fork).
Questions sometimes include two interrogative operator
variables and request the identification of pairs or sets that
satisfy a specified relationship between the two variables.
A simple example of such a question is Who is eating
what? In a sense, these are combined Subject and Object
Questions, and an appropriate response will provide answers
to both parts of the question. The response must also be
exhaustive; i.e., will identify all instances where someone is
eating something. If three people are eating different foods,
for example, a complete response will identify each person
and the food they are eating; that is, three paired sets.
Questions with two Wh-words are interesting syntactically
in that they can illustrate features of movement that are not
apparent in simpler questions. In particular, the movement
of one of the two Wh-words to the Specifier position of the
Complementizer Phrase precludes the movement of the
other Wh-word to that same position. So the second Wh-
word must remain in situ. In the example “Who is eating
what? the Object Wh-Word (“...eating what?”) cannot be
moved from the verb Object position to the Specifier of the
Complementizer Phrase because that position is already
occupied by the Subject Wh-word (“Who is eating what?”).
This is shown in Figure 5.
This analysis can easily be extended to questions with three
interrogative operators such “Who who is playing what
where. Here, one of the three Wh-operators (Who) has
moved to the front of the sentence (the Specifier position
of Complementizer Phrase) and the others have remained
in situ. Questions with three Wh-operators are encountered
frequently and our linguistic computational system handles
them with ease; for example:
Who is drinking what and painting what?
Who is standing where and pointing where?
Who is sitting with whom and sharing with whom?
Who is eating what with what?
The first three examples ask the listener to associate an
Agent with the Objects of two different verbs (which in
the third example completes a Prepositional phrase). The
last example asks the listener to associate a single verb
with each of two Object arguments. These sentences
are essentially serving as two questions that have been
combined into one. As with the examples described earlier,
an appropriate response will provide answers to all the parts
of the question, and will be exhaustive; i.e., will identify all
“sets” of agents and associated objects, locations, and/or
Applying Linguistic Theory and Research
The QuestionQuest curriculum is designed to improve
children’s ability to comprehend, ask, and answer
questions. Development of the curriculum was guided by
what is known about the structure of language and the
syntax of questions in particular, as discussed above, and by
consideration of the intervention strategies that might best
serve to promote language acquisition and competence in
children with language impairment.
The focus of QuestionQuest is on receptive language
intervention. During the typical course of development,
language is learned from listening to others. Receptive
language exposure provides the essential input required to
develop a lexicon, set parameters, and establish syntactic
competence. Pinker (1994) stated this succinctly when he
“It is not surprising that grammar development does
not depend on overt practice, because actually saying
something aloud, as opposed to listening to what
other people say, does not provide the child with
information about the language he or she is trying to
learn.” (Pinker, 1994, p. 280)
Yet research shows that children with language impairment
do not readily acquire the structure of language based on
incidental language exposure. They clearly struggle with
the acquisition and use of syntactic information, and as
a consequence they are deficient in the comprehension
and production of language as well as at far greater
risk for academic disabilities (e.g., NELP, 2009). These
language deficits cannot be addressed effectively in social
communication contexts that encourage the expressive use
of language (e.g., Law, Garrett & Nye, 2004). Language
(vocabulary and syntax) is acquired through listening, not
While the ultimate goal may be to develop communicative
competence, that goal cannot be reached without first
establishing language competence. And for children
with language impairments, what is required to facilitate
language competence is receptive language intervention.
Moreover, this should be delivered in a developmentally
appropriate sequence and should feature repeated
exposure to highly structured and salient training materials
that target underdeveloped linguistic forms and structures
(e.g., Gillam, McFadden, & van Kleech, 1995; Warren &
Bambara, 1989; Wilson, 1977). These criteria have guided
the development of QuestionQuest.
The QuestionQuest curriculum is divided into three Levels,
each containing seven Modules. Each Module trains one
to four question forms using 10 stimulus sets. The Modules
are described here:
Level 1 Modules
1. Who Introduction
Who questions are introduced with two people in a scene
performing different action verbs (Who is drumming/
painting?). The student must correctly identify which of two
people is engaged in one activity versus another. These are
relatively simple question forms since they only require the
student to discriminate between the two different verbs.
2. Who/What Subject
Who/What questions are contrasted (Who/What is under
the table?) requiring students to discriminate between
people (who) and objects (what). In both questions the
Wh-Operator is the Subject of the sentence. The syntax of
these Subject contrasts is simpler than Object questions.
3. Who/What Object
Who/What Object questions are contrasted (Who/What is
the boy drawing?) The syntax of these questions is more
complex than the Subject questions in Module 2. In English,
the Object of the sentence (who or what) must move to
the front of the sentence. Students with language disorders
have more difficulties with Object questions than they do
with Subject questions.
Who/What is under the table?
Who/What is the boy drawing?
Who is drumming/painting?
4. Who/What/Where Introduction
Who/What/Where questions are introduced in this Module.
Students learn to discriminate among person, object, and
place questions. To simplify the discrimination task, the
Who questions are simple subject ones (Who is eating an
apple?). This contrasts with the What/Where questions
that entail movement to the front of the sentence (What/
Where is the officer eating an apple?). Note that students
are also assisted in discriminating these What/Where
questions by specification of the object she is eating in the
Where question.
5. Who/What/Where
The contrasts in this Module all entail movement from the
Object position and hence the stimulus questions are all of
the same syntactic form.
6. Who/What/Where Exhaustive
In this Module, the student must identify all members of
the set of people, objects, or locations requested by the
target question. In other words, an exhaustive response
is required. Many students with language disorders do not
understand that these Wh-Questions require exhaustive
answers. If three people are carrying a ladder, a correct
response to the question Who is carrying a ladder?
requires the identification of all the participants. Similarly,
a correct response to Who is washing the car?requires
identifying all of the individuals who are doing so.
7. What/With What
In this Module, students learn to discriminate between
questions that contrast the Object from the tool that is
being used.
“Who is washing the car?”
What is the cowboy eating/eating with?
Who/What/Where is the father painting?
Who is eating an apple?
What is the officer eating?
Where is the officer eating an apple?
Level 2 Modules
1. Who(m)/What/Where Pairs
Students are introduced to questions that require multiple
paired answers. Three Agents are shown and the student is
asked to pair each of them with an associated person, place,
or thing. An exhaustive response is required; a complete
answer requires the student to correctly pair each of the
Subjects with the appropriate Object. For example, three
characters are shown on the screen and students are told,
Everyone is sitting somewhere. They are then asked,
Who is sitting where? The answer requires the student to
correctly pair the characters with where they are sitting.
2. Who -Verb Contrasts Exhaustive
This Module builds on the previous one but there are three
columns instead of two. Students see a scene in which
three characters are engaged in two different activities
involving either two other characters (whom), two objects
(what), or two locations (where). For example, after being
told, “Everyone is reading something and eating something,
students are asked, Who is reading what and eating what?
The answer requires that the student match each character
with items in the remaining two columns.
3. Who-What/With What/Where Exhaustive
Again students are asked to correctly match items in three
columns but more complex questions are asked. After
being told, “Everyone is playing something somewhere,
students are asked, “Who is playing what where? The
answer requires that students correctly match item sets in
the three columns.
4. Who Is/Is Not & Yes/No Contrasts
In this Module, students are trained to discriminate between
Wh- and Yes/No-Questions. After being told the following,
“One person is painting and the other is not,” students are
asked either a Wh- Is/Is Not Question (Who is painting?) or
a Yes/No-Question (Is the father painting?). Students choose
from a picture array that always includes all Wh- (both
characters in the scene) and Yes/No response options (an
animated nodding head for yes and shaking head for no).
Everyone is playing something somewhere. Who is playing
what where?
One person is painting and the other is not. Who Is/Is Not
painting? or Is the father painting?
Everyone is reading something and eating something. Who
is reading what and eating what?
Everyone is sitting somewhere. Who is sitting where?
5. Who/What & Yes/No Contrasts
Here students learn to discriminate Who or What
questions from Yes/No-Questions. After being told The
baker is decorating a cake” the student is then asked, either
a Wh- or a Yes/No-Question (What is the baker decorating?
or Is the baker decorating a cake?). They must choose from
among a picture array depicting the possible answers.
6. Who/What Subject/Object Contrasts
In this Module, students must discriminate between Subject
and Object questions (What is landing on the father?/What
is the father landing on?).
7. How Instrument
This Module introduces students to the syntax and
semantics of How instrument questions where How is used
to request identification of a tool or object that is being
used to accomplish an activity. For example, “How is the
girl breaking the piñata? where the answer is “With a bat
and the correct choice is the picture of a bat. This is the
most common How question type.
Level 3 Modules
1. How Manner
This Level starts with learning the syntax and semantics of
How manner questions in which a character is engaged in
an activity involving a distinct posture or body movement.
For example, students would hear the question How is the
monkey hanging from the branch? where the correct answer
is ...upside down. Students must choose the picture of
a stick figure, Zot, illustrating the manner in which the
monkey is hanging from the branch. Zot is used to ensure
that students are making the proper manner abstractions
and not simply matching to the reference scene.
How is the girl breaking the piñata? With a bat.
How is the monkey hanging from the branch? Upside down.
What is landing on the father?
What is the father landing on?
What is the baker decorating? or Is the baker decorating a cake?
2. Why Cause
This Module trains the syntax and semantics of common
Why cause questions that request identification of external
circumstances motivating an action. For example, questions
of the form “Why is the officer chasing the dog?” are asked
where the required response is to choose the ...because
the dog took her hat,” answer card with her hat in the dog’s
3. Why Purpose
This Module trains the use of Why in questions that request
identification of the purpose of an action. Why questions
such as Why is the boy filling the washtub?require the
identification of the purpose of the action which in this case
would be “ wash his dog.
4. How/Where
These contrasts require students to discriminate between
either How instrument or manner questions and Where
questions. For example, “How is the boy doing tricks?
requires the manner answer ...on his handswhile Where
is the boy doing tricks? requires the location answer “...on
the sidewalk. For the manner response the student would
choose the picture depicting Zot standing on his hands
while for Where questions the correct choice would be the
picture of the sidewalk.
5. Why/Where
Students are trained to discriminate between either Why
cause or Why purpose questions and Where questions.
For example, the answer to “Why is the girl crying?” is the
cause answer, ...because her balloon got away and would
require choosing the picture of the balloon floating away
from her hand. The answer to Where is the girl crying?
is “...on the slide” and requires the choice of the picture of
the slide.
How is the boy doing tricks? On his hands.
Where is the boy doing tricks? On the sidewalk.
Why is the girl crying? Because her balloon got away.
Where is the girl crying? On the slide.
Why is the boy filling the washtub? To wash his dog.
Why is the officer chasing the dog? Because the dog took her hat.
6. How/Why
In these semantic contrasts students choose from among
pictures that depict the response to How instrument or
manner and Why cause or purpose questions. For example,
How is the boy leaving the tent? requires the manner
response “On his hands and knees” whereas the Why cause
answer to “Why is the boy leaving the tent? is “...because the
skunks are coming in. Note that this Why question could also
have the purpose answer of get away from the skunks.
7. How/Why/Where
The final Module trains students to discriminate among
various How/Why/Where questions. For example after
seeing a scene of the baby crawling towards his toys,
students would be asked a How manner question “How
is the baby crawling? where the answer is “...on his hands
and knees and the student must pick the picture of Zot
crawling on his hands and knees. The Where question is
Where is the baby crawling? and the answer is “...on the
rug. The Why purpose question for this scene is, “Why is
the baby crawling? and the answer is get his toys and
the picture choice is his toys.
While the QuestionQuest curriculum is based on linguistic
theory and research as well as language acquisition and
clinical research, the instructional strategies used are those
with proven effectiveness in behavioral and educational
Instructional Research
The well-established learning principles of Behavioral
Analysis (Holland, 1964; Holland & Skinner, 1961; Skinner,
1963) provide a foundation for instructional design used
in all of Laureate’s language assessment and intervention
programs, including QuestionQuest. There is a long history
of demonstrated success using these principles, with explicit
instruction and carefully controlled stimulus presentations,
to effectively teach a variety of language skills (Justice et.
al., 2003; Maurice, Green, & Luce, 1996; Wilson, 1977).
Training with Laureate’s language development software
includes several kinds of instructional support, including
elements that can be introduced or faded in relation
to a given student’s competence. For example, pretrial
instruction is used as needed to introduce concepts; a
target picture is presented or cued and the target sentence
is spoken before the trial is presented and the student is
asked to respond. Cueing to the Correct Response (CCR)
is also provided when necessary; this consists of visual and
auditory attention focusing techniques such as “hazing”
competing stimuli or flashing an outline around the correct
response target. CCR is also provided as instructional
feedback following an incorrect response or if no response
is made. A second form of instructional feedback employed
is Knowledge of the Correct Response (KCR). By always
including KCR, either as informational feedback following
an incorrect response, or as part of the reinforcement
sequence following a correct response, the learner is always
provided with the correct answer.
Pretrial instruction and KCR take on added significance
in QuestionQuest because, not only do these instructional
steps indicate the correct answer on each trial, but they
also illustrate the declarative form of the interrogative
sentence used during the trial. As such, the student is
exposed to both sentence forms in a manner that highlights
and contrasts their structural similarities and differences.
In our own research we have found that, in training using
only feedback as an instructional component, both KCR
and CCR were effective (Wilson & Fox, 1983). There
have been many other demonstrations of the effectiveness
of these procedures as well, across a range of instructional
programs (Gilman, 1969; Tait, Hartley & Anderson, 1973;
Wilson & Fox, 1981). Included in this body of evidence is
research conducted using Laureate’s language development
software (e.g., Finn, Futernick, & MacEachern, 2005;
Gale, Crofford, & Gillam, 1999; Gillam, Crofford, Gale, &
Hoffman, 2001; Gillam, Loeb, & Friel-Patti, 2001; Gillam,
Loeb, Hoffman, et al., 2008; Marler, Champlin, & Gillam,
2001; Miller & Felton, 2001; Wilson & Fox, 1983; 1986).
How is the baby crawling? On his hands and knees.
Where is the baby crawling? On the rug.
Why is the baby crawling? To get his toys.
How is the boy leaving the tent? On his hands and knees.
Why is the boy leaving the tent? Because the skunks are
coming in.
QuestionQuest has a curriculum based on current linguistic
theory and research and uses instructional strategies
with proven effectiveness. As well, the program includes
the Sterling Administration System which provides for
extensive data collection, management, and reporting.
Additionally, the curriculum can be automatically delivered
using Laureate’s Optimized Intervention® expert system
Optimized Intervention® Technology
Given the extensive curriculum in QuestionQuest as well as
the wide-ranging individual differences among children with
language impairments, difficulties in tracking progress and
selecting appropriate lesson materials can be an obstacle to
effective treatment. For this reason, Laureate has developed
an Optimized Intervention system for QuestionQuest that is
designed to efficiently test students and then enter them
into training at an appropriate level, adjust their instructional
support, and implement new activities as needed, and
generally arrange the presentation of material in such a way
that the focus of treatment is continually adjusted based
on the child’s performance and emerging capabilities. This
approach yields highly individualized and efficient language
instruction. Laureate’s Optimized Intervention system also
features extensive data collection and reporting capabilities,
thereby greatly simplifying the process of tracking student
progress and generating reports detailing areas of strength
and weakness.
Laureate’s Optimized Intervention technology was originally
inspired by methodology developed by the Software
Technology Branch of the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) at the Johnson Space Center (Way,
1993). This group had developed software to train space
shuttle astronauts that incorporated many useful features. In
particular, the software was able to codify the knowledge and
skills of professionals to be used to present customized lesson
content, evaluate progress during a lesson, and revise the
curriculum based on individual strengths and weaknesses. In
the 1990’s, representatives from NASA and a panel of special
educators from the Center for Special Education Technology
and the Council for Exceptional Children identified the
emerging language problems of children with disabilities as a
critical problem in special education that might productively
be addressed using NASAs methodology. Subsequently,
Laureate Learning Systems was invited to enter into a
Technology Transfer Agreement with NASA. Since that
time, Laureate has developed and field-tested a long series
of Optimized Intervention systems for language intervention.
Critical to this extended endeavor was the support of the
National Institutes of Health, including Small Business
Innovation Research (SBIR) awards from the National
Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
(NIDCD) and the National Institute on Child Health and
Human Development (NICHD).
When using the Optimized Intervention activity in
QuestionQuest, the program begins by probe testing target
syntactic forms in developmental order to ascertain the
appropriate place to begin training. Probe testing continues
until the student makes several errors on one or more forms
in a particular training Module, after which training begins on
that Module. Training begins with an instructional introduction
to demonstrate the training task and the material to be
trained. Once training begins, the Optimized Intervention
system determines what material a student needs to work
on and how much instructional support the student may
require to make progress. Optimized Intervention training
continues until a student has demonstrated mastery over all
the forms in a Module. At that point, probe testing begins
for the next Module. If the student continually fails to reach
criterion performance for a given form or forms in a Module,
training on that Module is postponed until after the student
has worked through the other Modules on the Level.
The power of the Optimized Intervention system combined
with its ease of use means that speech-language pathologists
and other professionals can confidently recommend the use
of QuestionQuest (and other Sterling Edition programs) in the
classroom and in children’s homes. The Optimized Intervention
system assures that the program content is being delivered in a
sound progression and manner. The extensive data collection
and reporting capabilities of the system ensure that the
recommending professional can review in detail a student’s
performance within and across sessions. While increasing
services by providing one-on-one professional treatment on
a daily basis is often prohibitively expensive, that is not the
case with computer delivered services. With QuestionQuest,
services can be delivered on a daily basis to all students who
could benefit from the training the program provides, while at
the same time freeing the professional to work on additional
important goals needed to establish language competence.
Increasing the amount of individualized language services
provided means that students will meet their goals more
The Use of Computers in Language Intervention
The use of computer-based language intervention software
offers many advantages to clinicians, educators, parents,
and administrators. Well designed software can provide
a salient focus of attention while presenting the highly
structured interactions needed to illustrate the formal
aspects of language. In the case of QuestionQuest, there are
added benefits in that the software addresses deficits that
are very difficult to diagnose without special testing. The
program also incrementally trains very specific material using
situations and scenarios that would be exceedingly difficult
for educators to construct in the classroom, at least without
prohibitively time-consuming individualized planning and
materials preparation.
More generally, using computer-based language intervention
software is a cost-efficient means for delivering individualized
services. Children can use intervention software in
classrooms and at home as part of one-on-one treatment,
as an individual activity, or as a cooperative activity among
peers. This offers the potential to vastly increase access
to individualized services beyond those delivered formally
by a speech-language pathologist. Children also enjoy
working with properly designed educational software. One
investigation, for example, found that three to six year old
children with Autism Spectrum Disorder were more attentive
and motivated when using a computer, and actually learned
and retained more vocabulary than they did during one-on-
one instruction with a teacher (Moore & Calvert, 2000).
Most importantly, research has shown that language
intervention software works. Significantly improved language
development and communication skills have been documented
when regular use of language intervention software was
added to the ongoing special education curriculum in a typical
classroom setting. Moreover, using language intervention
software with non-professional adult assistance, children
with special needs have been shown to make language gains
comparable to those seen during individual language therapy
with a speech-language pathologist (Gale, Crofford, & Gillam,
1999; Gillam & Loeb, 2005; Gillam, Loeb, Hoffman et al.,
2008; Howard, 1986; Schery & O’Connor, 1995; Steiner &
Larson, 1991; Wilson & Fox, 1983; 1986).
A recent study conducted by Smith, Pereira, Ravina, et
al. (2011) at the Clarke School for Hearing and Speech
Impairment in Northampton, Massachusetts evaluated the
effectiveness of QuestionQuest. Subjects were 14 children
ages 5;4 to 8;4 years of age most of whom had cochlear
implants. Subjects used the software for 30 minutes a day,
usually 3 times per week, for 8 weeks. They were tested
using two versions of a Wh-Question elicited production test
based on the Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation
Norm Referenced (DELV-NR; Seymour, Roeper, & de
Villiers, 2005); one version before the intervention and a
second version after (counterbalanced). They were also
tested on 17 untrained morphosyntax production items (e.g.
tense markers, copula “be”) from the DELV Screening Test
(Seymour, Roeper, & de Villiers, 2003). At post-test there
was no significant change in performance on the untrained
morphosyntax test (p=0.4). As can be seen in Figure 6, scores
more than doubled, however, on the Wh-Question elicited
production test, a difference that was highly significant
The authors noted that improvements in elicited production
were evident in students across a range of initial ability. Some
who initially did not produce Wh-Questions did so after
training; others with initially limited production expanded
their repertoire. These results are especially encouraging
since they involved expressive performance even though the
training provided in QuestionQuest is receptive.
QuestionQuest was designed so that it can be used by children
independently in their classrooms. Most professionals will
use Optimized Intervention to provide intensive individualized
intervention with appropriate lesson content and instructional
support. Speech-language pathologists can also recommend
classroom use of the programs knowing it will be easy to show
teachers and teaching assistants how to use the software. Once
the identifying information on a student has been entered and
the appropriate settings chosen (e.g. response time, standard
session length, interface), anyone can start the student on
the program. No training is needed, as the person only has to
choose the student’s name and program then click “GO.”
A wide range of students can benefit from using QuestionQuest.
The program is appropriate for use with students who have
mastered many of the earlier developing Determiner, Tense,
and Preposition forms used in simple sentences. To determine
whether your students or clients have mastered these forms
and structures, you can use Laureate’s free LanguageLinks®
and Prepositions! Syntax Tests CD. The Full Test evaluates
understanding of 33 Determiner, Tense, and Preposition
forms while the Screening Test covers a subset of 17 forms.
Students can use QuestionQuest until they have mastered
all the Yes/No- and Wh-Question materials covered. In
typically developing children this would be around six years
of age. In the case of children with language impairments
this could take well into the school years. Regardless of
etiology, children with language impairments have problems
mastering grammatical forms. Therefore, QuestionQuest is
appropriate for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,
Developmental Disabilities, Specific Language Impairment,
and hearing impairments, among others. It is also appropriate
for use with pre-school and elementary age English language
learners. Additionally, syntax intervention is a missing
component in many programs serving children at risk for
reading failure in a Response to Intervention (RTI) model. Yet
mastery of syntax is critical to the development of reading
comprehension (Scott, 2009). When individualized language
intervention can be delivered on a daily basis in inclusionary
settings, students benefit because syntax mastery provides a
foundation for improved communication as well as reading.
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Development and field testing of QuestionQuest was partially supported
by Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Deafness and Other
Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
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Special Needs Software

Supplementary resource (1)

In this paper, we present a spoken educational system to automatically assess Arabic-native children’s skill in forming English questions for different presented prompts. These prompts consist of images with a sentence that includes the answer to the required question. The answer key is colored to indicate what to ask. The main methodology of the proposed system is to record the spoken response of the child and pass it through state-of-the-art ASR to convert it into text. The output transcription is passed through three pipelined subsystems; Wh-question word checker, English grammar checker, which returns the number of grammar errors in the given question, and machine learning based grammar/language checker. The student response is accepted only if it is accepted by the three subsystems. The system was trained on 650 recorded responses made by 60 students (5th to 8th grades) as response to 75 different prompts. The number of grammar errors produced by the English grammar checker, best cosine similarity, best edit distance and best Jaccard distance between student response and the corresponding reference possible responses, are used to train KNN and SVM models with different parameters. The best precision, recall, f-measure and accuracy were achieved by SVM with linear kernel and degree of 2, 91%, 88%, 89% and 89%, respectively.
Full-text available
Wh-words in the world’s languages exhibit extraordinary variation in morphology, privileges of movement, and pragmatic sensitivity. Their interpretation remains a complex challenge for linguistic theory so it is natural for it to be a challenge for children too. An extensive literature on syntactic acquisition of wh explores the finding that children at first choose partial movement in a variety of languages where it is not allowed by adults (de Villiers, Roeper, & Vainikka, 1990; Thornton, 1990; Abdulkarim, 2001, for a review). With respect to the quantificational properties of wh-questions, different languages have different properties and provide different cues to children for how they should be interpreted. Chomsky (1973) argued that wh-words were Names because they behaved like Names in binding theory, while Nishigauchi (1999) argued that English wh-expressions have a hidden universal quantifier every within them. In contrast, Chinese wh-words have an overt indefinite quantifier [wh-something] (Cheng, 1991). Beck and Rullman (1999) and recent work in semantics have focused upon the properties of exhaustivity and maximality, while others have observed that the pragmatics of partition have to be taken into account (Higgenbotham, 1993). Furthermore, linguistic expressions can guide one’s interpretations, whether an expression is to be understood either non-exhaustively or exhaustively. Expressions such as for example in English and the equivalent zum Beispiel in German can override the property of exhaustivity. By adding expressions such as alles in German or dialect forms of all (“who all”) in English the speaker makes explicit that she demands an exhaustive answer (Reis, 1992; Beck, 1996). Recent work in the semantics of quantifier acquisition (see Crain and Thornton, 1998) have focused on showing when children “know” the meaning of quantifiers like every. It is a natural first step to ask when the adult grammar is achieved — but it leaves untouched the acquisition problem: How does the child fix language-particular properties of grammar when the surface of language has many confusing, even contradictory clues (see Roeper, 1999, and Yang, 2003, on the presence of multiple grammars in language)? In particular, by what acquisition stages, from an initial default state to the target state, does the child come to understand the exhaustivity in wh-expressions? Thus, our research question can be formulated as in follows: (1) How and when does the child first grasp the set properties of wh-expressions? That is, how does the child realize that a wh-word does not refer to a single object, but to a set, and thus that an answer to a wh-question requires a listing of all the members of the set, whether it is a set of one or many. Our goal is to characterize a child’s initial semantic assumptions, the initial state prior to the acquisition or realization of quantificational relations. Our discussion however will provide only an empirical and descriptive account, which responds to the empirical evidence we present. We hope that this account will stimulate discussion of how a bridge to adult formal representations should be conceived.
“Specific language impairment” (SLI) is a term applied to children who show significant deficits in language learning ability but age-appropriate scores on non-verbal tests of intelligence, normal hearing, and no clear evidence of neurological impairment. Children who meet this definition are not identical in their characteristics, though some linguistic profiles are rather common. Boys outnumber girls, with a ratio of approximately 2.8 to 1 (Robinson, 1987). At age five years, the prevalence of SLI might be as high as 7% (Tomblin, 1996). This percentage is probably lower at older ages, due to the fact that some proportion of children with milder language difficulties achieve normal levels of ability within a few years, often with the help of intervention.
Analysing English Sentences provides a concise and clear introduction to current work in syntactic theory, drawing on the key concepts of Chomsky’s Minimalist Program. Assuming little or no prior knowledge of syntax or minimalism, Radford outlines the core concepts and leading ideas and how they can be used to describe various aspects of the syntax of English. A diverse range of topics is covered, including syntactic structure, null constituents, head movement, case and agreement and split projections. Using Radford’s trademark approach and writing style, the book is intensive and progressive in nature, introducing grammatical concepts and working in stages towards more complex phenomena.