Past tense formation in Williams syndrome

Michael S.C. Thomas, Julia Grant, Zita Barham, Marisa Gsödl, Emma Laing, Laura Lakusta, Lorraine K. Tyler, Sarah Grice, Sarah Paterson, Annette Karmiloff-Smith

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123 Scopus citations


It has been claimed that in the language systems of people with Williams syndrome (WS), syntax is intact but lexical memory is impaired. Evidence has come from past tense elicitation tasks with a small number of participants where individuals with WS are said to have a specific deficit in forming irregular past tenses. However, typically developing children also show poorer performance on irregulars than regulars in these tasks, and one of the central features of WS language development is that it is delayed. We compared the performance of 21 participants with WS on two past tense elicitation tasks with that of four typically developing control groups, at ages 6, 8, 10, and adult. When verbal mental age was controlled for, participants in the WS group displayed no selective deficit in irregular past tense performance. However, there was evidence for lower levels of generalisation to novel strings. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the WS language system is delayed because it has developed under different constraints, constraints that perhaps include atypical phonological representations. The results are discussed in relation to dual-mechanism and connectionist computational models of language development, and to the possible differential weight given to phonology versus semantics in WS development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-176
Number of pages34
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Apr 2001


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