What constitutes pragmatic impairment?: a case study



Publication Details

Letts, C., Leinonen, E. K. & York, S. (1994). What constitutes pragmatic impairment?: a case study. First Language, 14 (42-43), 346.


With growing interest in pragmatic development as a component of child language acquisition, there has also been recognition that pragmatic skills may be impaired in some children. The question of criteria for diagnosis of pragmatic impairment is one which is currently being asked by researchers and other speech-language professionals. In fact, we need to ask first whether such impairment exists at all, and if it does, in what fonn. This paper reports on a detailed case study of a child (9;8-10;3 ) who has been reported to have pragmatic impairment as her primary difficulty by her speech-language therapist. The child attends a language unit within a mainstream school in the UK. A number of language (including narrative) tasks have been carried out with the child over a 7 month period, and spontaneous conversational data has also been obtained. The data is explored from grammatical, lexical and pragmatic perspectives. Comparison is made between this child's performance and that of children experiencing apparently nonnal pragmatic development. Pragmatic performance is looked at from the point of view of both conversational analysis and relevance theory. It is argued that the child behaves pragmatically in a way that is demonstrably different from other children, and that this behaviour cannot be explained by other deficits she may have at other linguistic levels. It is hoped to highlight aspects of pragmatic skill that may be crucial for normal language acquisition.

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