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Language Use of Parents with Their Developmentally Different Twins

Language Use of Parents with Their Developmentally Different Twins
Terre K. Graham, PhD, Rosalind R. Scudder, PhD, Kim McCullough, MA
August 2, 2004

Terre K. Graham, Ph.D.
Rockhurst University
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
Kansas City, MO

Rosalind R. Scudder, Ph.D.
Wichita State University, KS

Kim McCullough, MA
Rockhurst University, MO


This study examined interactions of four fathers and four mothers with their twins. Each twin pair had one sibling with, and one without, Down syndrome. Language samples were taken from the fathers' and mothers' video- and audio taped interactions with each twin separately and when the twins were together. The language samples were coded according to the Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts (SALT, by Miller and Chapman, 2000) protocol and analyzed for mean length of utterance in words and number and types of utterances. Differences were found among the fathers and mothers, the twins and between the conditions (alone and together) in all categories.


Parents play an active role in their child's language acquisition. Parents are given responsibility for socializing infants to think and act like members of the social group (Gleason, 1988). Socialization proceeds through continual rearrangement of the environment as the child gains maturity and brings changes that encourage still more mature behaviors. Parents rearrange the environment to provide social partners and settings for their children to learn to speak. Communication between parents and children allows the children to extend their language into new contexts, to meet the conditions of various speech acts, to maintain topics across turns and to know what is worth talking about. Children learn and internalize conventions for making their intentions clear as they learn to regulate language use with others (Bruner, 1983).

Parents facilitate language development by holding their infants' attention with simplified "parentese" (Harris, 1992; Snow, 1977). Parents gradually ncrease the complexity of what they say, while "fine tuning" their talk appropriately to the children's developing abilities (Cross, 1977). When children begin to talk, parents begin to imitate as a prompt for imitation (Snow, 1981). Parents talk a great deal to motivate their children and they
respond to their children's immature utterances by extending and expanding them into more advanced and grammatical forms (Nelson, 1973). Parents encourage children to display advances in learning when they accept their children's early attempts at saying words and when they provide positive feedback more often than negative (Hart & Risley, 1995).

As indicated by Krashen (1982), effective language learning requires language input that is comprehensible. For children's language to expand and grow, input to the child should be "1 + 1." That is, adult input should be one morpheme (the smallest meaningful unit of language) above the child's language level. MacDonald (1989) refers to this concept as "progressive matching." Progressive matching refers to the more developed person performing in meaningful ways, that the less developed person can observe, learn from and achieve. Specifically, progressive matching is a process of interacting sensitively with children which helps ensure communicative success and shows the next developmental step.

Studies have shown parents frequently communicate beyond the cognitive ability of developmentally delayed children (Lieven, 1984; MacDonald & Gillette, 1988; Mahoney, 1988). Other research (Cross, 1978; Ellis & Wells, 1980; Girolometto, 1988) indicates that parents' communications to developmentally delayed children are less related to the children's speech or actions, than parents of children who are developing typically.Mahoney (1988) concluded that matching does indeed relate to greater interactions and learning.

Terre K. Graham, PhD

Rosalind R. Scudder, PhD

Rosalind R. Scudder, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is a professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences at Wichita State University, and a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Her research and teaching interests deal with language disorders in children. 

Kim McCullough, MA

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