Looking at Language Samples
A colleague asked about ways to analyze a language sample:
Consider cultural and linguistic factors: dialect/language differences, linguistic community, etc.
Highlight conjunctions: compare compound and complex sentences
• Coordinating conjunctions: and, but, or, etc.
• Subordinating conjunctions: before/after, because, until, where, etc.
• Examine use of simple coordinating conjunctions for overreliance on forms
o “and then… and then… and then…”
• Look for sentence complexity: cause/effect, rationale, temporal relationships
o “We were last because there was a long line”
• Find the longest grammatically correct sentence as a sample to share with family
Highlight morphological errors
• Subject-verb agreement: “she play”
• Past tense forms: “it costed(-ed)”, “he catched it”, “I drawed”
• Plurals: “two cat”, “two teeths”
• Comparatives and superlatives: “more funner”, “goodest”
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Highlight syntactical errors
• Declaratives: “going up kitty”
• Interrogatives: “why he come here?”
• Negative: “we not go to the park”
Consider noun and verb specificity: level of semantic meaning
• Non-specific nouns: “that guy”, “the thing”, “there”, “it”
• Generic nouns: girl, dog, store, park, ball
o “the kids went to the park”
• Specific nouns: proper nouns, descriptive elements, character names, location names
o “my sister Briana, she goes to South City High School”, “My friend Ethan caught the baseball.”
• Non-specific verbs: go/went, have/had, do/did, get/got
o “that boy went ‘hi’”, “they do it”
• Generic verbs: play/played, ran/run, says/said, etc.
o “they ran outside”
• Specific verbs: describes action and gives detail, yell, ask, race, jump, write, etc.
o “the tall boy grabbed the ball”, “he won the game”
• Look for metacognitive verbs for mental processes: thought, remember, forgot, etc.
o “and then I ‘membered what to do”
• Look for modal verbs for ability, obligation, or likelihood: can/could, have to, might, will, etc.
o “I had to go outside”, “he couldn’t play”
• Look for adverbial forms: manner (slowly), location (here/there), time (first/last), extent (only/almost), and intensity (very/really) for actions
o “we always walk real slow”, “he ran out so fast’, “I literally laughed”
• Consider any non-words (created forms): “he tornating the other boy”, “she swipt the floor”
• Consider repetition: same concepts/terms used multiple times, overuse of routinized/ritualized phrases, e.g., “and it was fun”, “and I liked it”
Descriptors/adjectives: details, perception/opinion, and specificity
• Unelaborated noun: “the bear”
• Elaborated with adjectives: “the big, fuzzy teddy bear”
• Elaborated with prepositional phrase: “the bear on the shelf”
• Elaborated with relative clause: “the bear that my sister gave me”
Narrative conventions: stylistic elements and story grammar
• Introduction/conclusion, time elements, etc.
o “Once there was”, “for a long time”, “and it was all better”
• Complexity of episodes (events – actions/attempts – consequences, etc.)
• Characters: dialog, feelings, motivations, responses
o “he was excited because he found the treasure”
• Coherence: referents, introduction of characters, noun/pronoun agreement
o “this girl, he had a cat”
• Topic maintenance: tangential or off-topic, multiple topics
Sequencing: presence and order of events/steps
• All steps present: in chronological order or out of order
o “My sister got a new doll. We had a party. It was her birthday”
• Not all steps are present
o “It was her birthday. She like her doll.”
Pragmatics: attempts to engage listener and emphasize information
• Paralinguistic: pitch, stress, rate, pauses/hesitations, etc.
o Delayed responses, asking for help, persistence, self-cueing, mazing (mid-sentence revisions)
o Look for clues about planning and formulation of ideas
• Nonlinguistic: gestures, body posture, facial expression, etc.
Listener response: listener’s ability to understand and retell story
• Level of communicative competence
• Presupposition: understand when listener doesn’t know background information
o Listener able or unable to determine who did what, what happened, where/when/why something happened
o Determine which elements are missing and why listener would be confused
In-depth analysis may guide language goals. Noticing areas of difficulty provides information about skill development across language domains.