The response of normal school-age children to wh-questions



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This study was designed to examine normal school age children's responses to certain types of wh-questions. A decision was made to collect data in this area for the following reasons: 1) responses to questions play a large role in the everyday verbal interactions of a child; 2) there is a paucity of information in this area and therefore the means to judge the adequacy or appropriateness of a child's responses are limited; 3) school children with language/ learning problems should be receiving treatment based, at least in part, on normative behavior, yet appropriate norms are virtually nonexistent; and 4) a first step in designing that type of treatment program would be to analyze, systematically and reliably, the way normal school-age children use language. It was hypothesized that there would be no differences in the way children at different grade levels answer wh-questions, and that sex differences would not influence response appropriateness. Thirty children served as subjects, 10 each from grades one, three and five-. An equal number of males and females from each grade level were tested. Subjects were seen individually and given instructions. Five action pictures were presented to the subject one at a time. The subject was asked to tell a story about the picture and was given a prompter phrase to get started. Depending on the subject's story line, the following questions were asked in a natural order, designed to provide a coherent dialogue: "How do you know that?" "Why?" "How come?" Each subject responded to the same three question types for all five pictures. The subject's responses were judged according to functional appropriateness and accuracy (Parnell & Amerman, 1983). Parnell and Amerman define a functional appropriateness error as occurring when the subject provides the wrong kind of information although he/she is not mistaken about the function of the question. An error in functional accuracy occurs when the subject provides the general kind of information requested, but is deficient in accuracy, fact, logic or credibility. In the present study, responses were classified using an adaptation of Parnell and Amerman's categorization system. There were five types of possible responses: 1) a functionally appropriate and accurate response; 2) a functionally inappropriate, but functionally accurate response; 3) a functionally appropriate, but functionally inaccurate response; 4) a functionally inappropriate and inaccurate response; 5) unclassifiable; any response that does not fit in the other categories. In the present study, functional appropriateness and accuracy were credited if the responses provided the type of information required by the question and logically followed the content of the picture. Lack of phonological, morphological or syntactic completeness was not penalized. Results indicated that the subjects performed in similar ways regardless of grade or sex. These results were discussed relative to the need for a complete data base on normal school-age children as a step in assessing youngsters with language/learning problems.



Children--Language, English language--Interrogative, Children's questions and answers