Syntactic context effects on the identification of spoken words, and the involvement of attention in mediating these effects, were examined in seventh-grade children with reading disabilities and children who were good readers. The subjects were asked to identify target words that were masked by white noise. All targets were final words embedded in unveiled sentences. Relative to a syntactically neutral context, the identification of targets whose morpho-syntactic structure was congruent with the context was facilitated and the identification of syntactically incongruent targets was inhibited. Reading-disabled children were less inhibited by syntactic incongruence than good readers. Presenting congruent and incongruent sentences in separate blocks reduced the amount of inhibition in good readers while having no effect on the reading-disabled. The percentage of correct identification of incongruent targets in the mixed presentation condition was larger for reading-disabled than for good readers, whereas in the blocked presentation condition the percentage of correct identification was equal across groups. The amount of facilitation was not affected by blocking the congruent and incongruent conditions, and was equal across reading groups. It is concluded that, in both reading groups, the syntactic structure of the context triggers a process of anticipation for particular syntactic categories which is based on a basic assumption that linguistic messages are syntactically coherent. Reading-disabled children are, however, less aware of this process and therefore less affected when the syntactic expectations are not fulfilled.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was supported by a grant from the Israel Foundations Trustiees to Shlomo Bentin and Partly by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Grant HD-01994 to Haskins Laboratories. Avital Deutsch was supported by a stipend from the Levin Center for Child Development. We thank all of the schools for enabling us to carry out this study. We thank Dr. Oren Lam for allowing us to study the children in his clinic. Address reprint requests to Avital Deutsch, School of Education, Hebrew University, Jerusalem 91905, Israel.