Identifying Linguistic Markers of French-Speaking Teenagers With Developmental Language Disorder: Which Tasks Matter?

J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2023 Jan 12;66(1):221-238. doi: 10.1044/2022_JSLHR-21-00541. Epub 2023 Jan 4.


Purpose: This research aimed to identify reliable tasks discriminating French-speaking adolescents with developmental language disorder (DLD) from their peers with typical language (TL) and to assess which linguistic domains represent areas of particular weakness in DLD. Unlike English, morphosyntax has not been identified as a special area of weakness when compared with lexicosemantics in French preschoolers with DLD. Since there is evidence that subject-verb number agreement is consolidated in later childhood, one might expect morphosyntax to be a particular weakness and marker of French DLD only in (pre)adolescence.

Method: We administered 20 subtasks that assessed linguistic and phonological working memory skills of two groups: 17 adolescents clinically identified as having DLD (M = 14.1 years) and 20 (pre)teens with TL (M = 12.2 years). Using robust statistics that are less affected by outliers, we selected the most discriminating subtasks between our groups, calculated their optimal cutoff score, and derived diagnostic accuracy statistics. We combined these subtasks in a multivariable model to identify which subtasks contributed the most to the identification of DLD.

Results: Seven subtasks were selected as discriminating between our groups, and three showed outstanding diagnostic accuracy: Recalling Sentences, a multiword task assessing lexicosemantic skills, and a subject-verb number agreement production task. When combined, we found that the latter contributed the most to our multivariable model.

Conclusion: This study provides evidence that the most relevant markers to identify DLD in French teenagers are tasks assessing lexicosemantics and morphosyntactic domains, and that morphosyntax should be considered an important area of weakness in French-speaking teenagers with DLD.

Supplemental material:

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Language Development Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Language Tests
  • Linguistics
  • Memory, Short-Term