Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 9 : 4 April 2009
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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Mean Length of Utterance and Syntax in Konkani

Dessai Rashmi Deepak, M.A.S.L.P.
Prathibha Karanth, Ph.D.
Dessai Teja Deepak


Mean Length of Utterance (or MLU) is a measure of linguistic productivity in children. A higher MLU is taken to indicate a higher level of language proficiency. It is calculated in morphemes or in words by dividing the number of morphemes or words by the total number of utterances, with an utterance defined as a sequence of words preceded and followed by change of turn in a conversation The aim of this study was to establish normative data for MLU and acquisition of aspects of syntax in Konkani speaking children in the age range of 3 to 5 years and to find the relation between MLU and the development of syntax. Acquisition of syntax was found to be directly proportional to the MLU. Higher the MLU, higher was the percentage of usage of the grammatical forms. These findings can be used to establish age appropriateness of grammatical development in Konkani speaking children in the age range of 3- 5 years.

Use of MLU

Assessing language development is necessary to understand the successive stages of development. Several qualitative and quantitative procedures are adopted in attempts to describe and assess the language of children. One such procedure which is found to be particularly useful with the clinical population of developmentally disabled children is computing mean length of utterance in words/morphemes. It provides an index of syntactic complexity in the child's speech. The mean length of utterance (MLU) has gained sustained popularity and interest of the professionals for long, for its relative ease of use and precision. It successfully serves as a tool for identifying language delay and deviancy. It is a more accurate measure of acquisition stage than chronological age of child. MLU is increasingly used with language disordered population as it serves as a tool for identifying language delay and deviances.

MLU is a measure suggested by Brown (1973) to indicate the length of utterances produced by children, where an utterance is a sequence of words preceded and followed by change of turn in a conversation. It is calculated in morphemes or in words by dividing the number of morphemes or words by the total number of utterances. Brown proposed that a useful index of language development could be the child's 'Mean Length of Utterance' (MLU). He suggested that one should collect a sample of 100 utterances from the child under observation and for each utterance calculate the number of morphemes which it contains. The mean of these utterance lengths, calculated in morphemes, is taken as child's MLU. This measure increases relatively smoothly over time for children (Brown, 1973:57), and it is widely used to compare the interpretation of data from different authors. Using it, Brown also proposed five stages of development. According to him, Stage I lasts to MLU 1.75, and is a stage of two-word speech and stages II-V correspond to MLU value of 2.25, 2.75, 3.50 and 4.00.

Brown's Formulation

Brown (1973) first found that at comparable MLUs children used the same grammatical structures up to the MLU of about 4. He observed that chronological age was not a good predictor of language development. After analyzing longitudinally, the speech samples of 3 children - Adam, Eve and Sarah, Brown designated five stages of language acquisition with reference to MLU, as follows.

Stage I: Semantic roles and syntactic relations (MLU 1.0 - 2.0 morphemes or 1.75 morphemes). Here child puts noun-verb sequences together.
Stage II: Grammatical morphemes and modulation meaning (MLU = 2.0 - 2.5 with average of 2.25 morphemes). The child starts to change word endings to portray grammar.
Stage III: Modalities of simple sentences (MLU = 2.5 - 3.25 with average of 2.75 morphemes). The child begins to use questions and imperatives.
Stage IV: Embedding (MLU = 3.25 - 3.75 with average of 3.5 morphemes). The child begins to use complex sentences.
Stage V: Co-ordination (MLU = 3.75 - 4.25 with average of 4 morphemes). The child may use connectors and more functions.

Brown did not imply that the stages are discrete, but rather that the linguistic development is continuous and that the stages allow comparison and characterizations at different levels of language proficiency. However, there has been considerable debate regarding the inherent reliability or usefulness of MLU as an index of grammatical development and also concerning whether it is morphemes [MLU (m)], syllables [MLU(s)] or words that should be measured.

Usefulness of MLU to Assess the Development of Morphological and Syntactic Skills in Young Children

Child language researchers and speech-language pathologists used mean length of utterance in words MLU (w) as a measurement of a child's gross language development before Brown (1973) introduced mean length of utterance in morphemes MLU (m). After Brown (1973) and others documented MLU(m) to be a measure correlated to development of morphological and syntactic skills in young children, the practice of counting MLU (m) became more widely used and accepted. Bloom (1968), Bowerman (1970), Miller and Chapman (1981) also reported that MLU was significantly influenced by the age. The relationship between child's age and mean length of utterance measured in morphemes MLU (m) was studied by Miller and Chapman, (1978) in a sample of 123 middle - to upper-middle-class Midwestern children in the US, aged 17 to 59 months, conversing with mothers in free play. A significant correlation was found between age and MLU: r = 0.88. Age accounted for 78% of the variance. Ranges within one standard deviation (SD) were estimated for predicted MLUs and derived for predicted ages on the basis of linear regression.

Arlman-Rupp et al (1976) observed that for children between 2.0 and 2.6 there is a high correlation between calculations of MLU based on morphemes, on words and on syllables, at least in Dutch. The advantage of a morpheme-based MLU was expected to be that, it would allow comparison of development between languages of different types.

Use of MLU to Identify the Language Age of Children

Measures of MLU have also been used to arrive at the 'language age' of children with developmental language disorders. According to Pamela Rosenthal Rollins of the University of Texas at Dallas (1995), despite much criticism MLU is often used to "language-age- match" children with language disorders to younger children with typical language. Her study explored the nature of MLU as a variable for language-age-matching children. Her findings demonstrated that MLU did not ensure that the children were matched on linguistic performances. When taken as a group, a group of children with SLI were not comparable to the control group with respect to morphological or lexical skill. Thus, the language skills were not equivalent between the groups. She suggested that we must go beyond global indicators such as MLU to the notion that "a child's language level should be represented as a profile of scores on a variety of component skills".

Chengappa (2002) in her study on 'Mean length of utterance and syntactic complexity in the speech of mentally retarded' compared the MLU and syntactic complexity of typically growing children with that of mentally retarded individuals in the age range of 4 to 11 years in Kannada. 20 normal children in the age range of 4-11 years and 10 mentally retarded children with comparable mental age were studied. Her findings suggested that mentally retarded children used single word utterances most frequently and the mildly retarded group had higher MLU (both MLU (w) and MLU (m) than the moderately retarded group. The occurrence of different grammatical categories in both the normal and mentally retarded were as follows in a decreasing frequency of occurrence - nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, kinship terms, conjunction, negatives, quotatives, interrogatives, reduplicative and onomatopoeia.

Parker (2005) compared MLU (w) and MLU (m) scores of 40 language transcripts from typically-developing, English-speaking children between the ages of 3:0 and 3:10. Results indicated that MLU (m) and MLU (w) are almost perfectly correlated. This finding suggests that MLU (w) can be used as effectively as MLU (m) as a measurement of a child's gross language development.

Fewer Studies in Indian Languages

There have been very few studies of MLU in Indian languages. When we look at the Indian languages, we see two main language roots: those of Aryan origin and those of Dravidian origin. Aryan languages are used more as we move towards the north, and towards the south we see the Dravidian languages.

Konkani falls between the Aryan and the Dravidian types, and fits better into the Aryan group. Due to the tumultuous historical events, the Konkani community has fragmented and spread throughout the west coast of India and has not been studied much.

The present study aimed at establishing norms for MLU in Konkani speaking children in the age range of 3 to 5 years and to relate them to the acquisition of aspects of syntax in Konkani speaking children.

Borkar & Ghanekar (2004) give importance to the following aspects of syntax in Konkani - nouns (/na:m/), pronoun (/sarvna:m/), adjective (/vishe:shan/), PNG markers, (/vachan/,/ling/), verbs (/krija:pad/), adverbs (/krija:vishe:shan/), tenses (/ka:l/), affirmatives (/hajka:r/), negations (/nhajka:r/), case markers (/ka:rak/). These aspects of the grammar of Konkani were explored and correlated with changes in MLU, in the current study.

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

Mean Length of Utterance and Syntax in Konkani | A Study of English Loan Words in Selected Bahasa Melayu Newspaper Articles | Verb Reduplication in Tamil and Telugu | The Relevance and Usefulness of European Literature for Innovations in Indian Literature - A Review | Girish Karnad as a Modern Indian Dramatist - A Study | Code Switching and Code Mixing Among Oriya Trilingual Children - A Study | T. S. Eliot - A Universal Poet With Appeal to Indian Spirituality | Academics' Perceptions of Reading and Listening Needs for English for Specific Purposes - A Case from National University of Malaysia | Perspectives on Teaching English Literature to English Literature Major Students | Myths and Legends in the Plays of Girish Karnad | Acoustic Correlates of Stress in Konkani Language | Compassion - Leo Tolstoy's Philosophy as Seen in His War and Peace | Role of Space in the Narratives of Bharathi Vasanthan, A People's Writer from Puducherry | Teaching English in Multiracial and Multilingual Nations - A Review of Maya Khemlani David's Book, A Guide for the English Language Teacher | HOME PAGE of April 2009 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

Dessai Rashmi Deepak , M.A.S.L.P.
Department of Audiology and Speech Language Pathology
Kasturba Medical College
Karnataka, India

Prathibha Karanth, Ph.D.,
Dr. M.V. Shetty College of speech & Hearing
Karnataka, India

Dessai Teja Deepak,BASLP Student
Nitte Institute of Speech and Hearing
Karnataka, India

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