Lexical-semantic organization in children with specific language impairment

Li Sheng, Karla K. McGregor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


Purpose: To determine whether children with specific language impairment (SLI) show deficits in lexical-semantic organization and, if so, whether these deficits are commensurate with their delay in vocabulary size and whether the deficits affect all children with SLI. Method: Fourteen children with SLI, 14 age matches (AM), and 14 expressive vocabulary matches (VM) generated 3 associations to each of 48 words. Associations were coded as semantic (e.g., dog-pet), clang (e.g., cow-how), or erroneous (e.g., spoon-Disney). Results: Relative to the AM children, children with SLI produced fewer semantic responses, more clangs, and more errors. Relative to the VM children, fewer semantic responses and more errors in the children with SLI were found in by-item analyses. Across elicitation trials, semantic responses decreased in the AM and VM children but remained stable in the SLI children. Examination of individual performance in the SLI group revealed that poor semantic performance was associated with a deficit in expressive vocabulary and a gap between receptive and expressive vocabularies. Conclusions: Significant variability in lexical-semantic organization skills exists among children with SLI. Deficits in lexical-semantic organization were demonstrated by a subgroup of children with SLI who likely had concomitant word-finding difficulties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-159
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Lexical-semantic organization
  • Repeated word association
  • Specific language impairment
  • Word-finding difficulties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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