Narrative Structure and Child Language Assessments

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  • Speech-language pathologists often assess children’s expressive language, which sometimes includes narrative abilities, when screening and diagnosing language delays. Typically, narratives are analyzed for grammatical complexity (i.e., mean length utterance or MLU) and lexical complexity (i.e., Type-Token Ratio, or TTR, and Guiraud’s Index). In this study, we tested whether measures of narrative structure complement or add information to typical assessment measures. Analyzing narrative structure would allow speech-language pathologists to assess whether children are able to effectively articulate and organize different pieces of information into a meaningful story. Specifically, narrative structure includes orienting (i.e., when, where, who, what), referential (i.e., actions), evaluative (i.e., thoughts and feelings) and coda (i.e., moral insights) information. Seventy-nine typically developing English monolingual children (aged 4-6) were asked to watch a Pink Panther cartoon and recount the story of what they had seen. Their narrations were coded for information that reflects the four narrative structure elements. Each child’s MLU, TTR and Guiraud’s Index were also calculated. Correlations were run between the narrative structure variables and the traditional narrative measures to determine if they were related and if narrative structure added new information. The results showed that MLU was not significantly correlated with the four narrative structure variables. Interestingly, most of the narrative structure variables showed negative and moderate correlations with TTR, while notably showing positive and moderate correlations with Guiraud’s index. These findings suggest that narrative structure is related to children’s lexical complexity (as assessed by Guiraud’s Index), adds new information to understanding children’s narrative abilities, and should be considered for inclusion in child language assessments.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International