Sentence repetition: what does the task measure?

Kamila Polisenska, Shula Chiat, Penny Roy

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background Sentence repetition is gaining increasing attention as a source of information about children's sentence-level abilities in clinical assessment, and as a clinical marker of specific language impairment. However, it is widely debated what the task is testing and therefore how informative it is. Aims (1) To evaluate the effects of different types of long-term linguistic knowledge on immediate recall, (2) to assess age sensitivity of repetition tasks designed to evaluate these effects, and (3) to establish if the effects are similar across typologically different languages. The study also considers the implications of the findings for the use of sentence repetition as a research and clinical assessment tool. Methods & Procedures Participants were 50 English-speaking and 50 Czech-speaking typically developing 4–5-year-olds. Children's ability to recall sequences of items was compared in seven linguistic conditions ranging from fully well-formed sentences to sequences of non-words. In each condition, children repeated blocks of successively longer stimuli to establish their span. Outcomes & Results Results showed significant but differential effects of all linguistic factors in both languages. While syntactic violations and presence of non-words dramatically reduced children's span, semantic implausibility and the removal of sentence prosody played a significant but much smaller role. Familiarity of function words was more important than familiarity of content words. The effects of different linguistic factors on spans were the same for both languages and did not change between 4 and 5 years, although average spans increased over this age range. Conclusions & Implications Children's ability to repeat sentences is more dependent on their familiarity with morphosyntax and lexical phonology than semantics or prosody, with function words of particular importance. Findings have implications for the use of recall in clinical assessment and as a research tool.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)106-118
    Number of pages12
    JournalInternational Journal of Language and Communication Disorders
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


    • sentence repetition
    • assessment
    • span task
    • cross-linguistic


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