Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp 1183–1199 | Cite as

Quantifying Semantic Linguistic Maturity in Children

  • Kristina Hansson
  • Rasmus Bååth
  • Simone Löhndorf
  • Birgitta Sahlén
  • Sverker Sikström


We propose a method to quantify semantic linguistic maturity (SELMA) based on a high dimensional semantic representation of words created from the co-occurrence of words in a large text corpus. The method was applied to oral narratives from 108 children aged 4;0–12;10. By comparing the SELMA measure with maturity ratings made by human raters we found that SELMA predicted the rating of semantic maturity made by human raters over and above the prediction made using a child’s age and number of words produced. We conclude that the semantic content of narratives changes in a predictable pattern with children’s age and argue that SELMA is a measure quantifying semantic linguistic maturity. The study opens up the possibility of using quantitative measures for studying the development of semantic representation in children’s narratives, and emphasizes the importance of word co-occurrences for understanding the development of meaning.


Semantic representation Semantic development Narratives Child language Semantic linguistic maturity 



This research was supported by the Linnaeus environment Thinking in Time: Cognition, Communication and Learning (financed by the Swedish Research Council, Grant No. 349-2007-8695), the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation (Grant No. 000-0171:01), the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (Grant No. 2007-0248), the Stinger Foundation (Grant Nos. 2005-42, 2006-29), Sunnerdahls Disability Foundation, the VAAG project, funded by the European Science Foundation and a grant on “Semantic Spaces in Psychology” from the Swedish Research Council. We are also grateful to all the children who participated and students who collected parts of the data for their master’s theses.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristina Hansson
    • 1
  • Rasmus Bååth
    • 2
  • Simone Löhndorf
    • 3
  • Birgitta Sahlén
    • 1
  • Sverker Sikström
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Clinical Sciences, Lund, Logopedics, Phoniatrics and AudiologyLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Lund University Cognitive ScienceLund UniversityLundSweden
  3. 3.Department of Linguistics, Centre for Languages and LiteratureLund UniversityLundSweden
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyLund UniversityLundSweden

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