The use of digit and sentence repetition in the identification of language impairment: The case of child speakers of Afrikaans and South African English

  • Salomé Gagiano Department of General Linguistics, Stellenbosch University
  • Frenette Southwood Department of General Linguistics, Stellenbosch University
Keywords: sentence repetition, digit repetition, specific language impairment, Afrikaans, South African English


There is a great need for an instrument that can accurately identify children with language problems early, regardless of the language(s) they speak. Certain tasks have been identified as potential markers of language impairment, including sentence repetition and digit repetition (Ziethe, Eysholdt and Doellinger 2013: 1). The purpose of this study was to compare the sensitivity of these two potential markers in order to compile an accurate measuring instrument for language impairment in Afrikaans and South African English (SAE). The participants were 20 typically developing (TD) Afrikaans- and 20 TD SAE-speaking 5-year-olds, as well as five Afrikaans- and five SAE-speaking 5-year-olds with language impairment (LI). Sentence and digit repetition tasks were devised, recorded on CD, and performed by each participant individually. Both groups with LI performed poorly, and significantly more poorly than their corresponding TD group, on both repetition tasks. For both languages, (i) sentence repetition distinguished best between the participants with and without LI, and (ii) some items proved to be more sensitive than others for the difference between the performance of the TD and the LI groups. These items may be appropriate for inclusion in a screening tool for LI in 5-year-olds. The availability of language screening tools in several of South Africa’s languages can be of value to child language researchers and speech-language therapists. This study demonstrated that devising such tools could be a feasible endeavour. In contrast to diagnostic language assessment instruments, screening tools that employ repetition tasks can be devised relatively quickly and economically, and can contribute to the early identification of children with language problems in the interim, while diagnostic instruments are developed.


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Author Biographies

Salomé Gagiano, Department of General Linguistics, Stellenbosch University
Speech-langauge therapist in private practice
Frenette Southwood, Department of General Linguistics, Stellenbosch University
Lecturer in the Department of General Linguistics