Subject–Aux Inversion in Children with SLI

  • Kelly RomboughEmail author
  • Rosalind Thornton


An elicited production study investigated subject–aux inversion in 5-year-old children with specific language impairment (SLI) and 2 control groups, typically-developing 5-year-old children and 3-year-old children matched by mean length of utterance. The experimental findings showed that children with specific language impairment produced subject–aux inversion in yes/no questions significantly less often than either of the control groups. However, the fact that lack of inversion is reflected in the input led to the proposal that children with specific language impairment choose the most economical grammatical option. For main clause wh-questions, children with SLI carried out subject–aux inversion at a rate that was not significantly different from the control groups. This finding suggests that these children have access to hierarchical phrase structure representations for questions and the relevant movement operations. In embedded wh-questions, where subject–aux inversion is not permitted, children with SLI implemented SAI more frequently than the control groups. Our interpretation of this finding is that once children with SLI acquire the subject–aux inversion rule, that they are slower to learn that embedded clauses present an exception to the rule.


Specific language impairment Subject–aux inversion Questions 



This research was funded by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CE1101021), Kelly Rombough was supported by a PhD fellowship funded by the CCD. We thank the Language Acquisition Group at Macquarie University for their feedback and suggestions. We would like to thank all the children and their families who participated in our study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cognitive Sciences, ARC Centre for Cognition and Its DisordersMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Linguistics, ARC Centre for Cognition and Its DisordersMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia

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