Measurement Properties of Mean Length of Utterance in School-Age Children

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Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools

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Purpose: Mean length of utterance (MLU) is one of the most widely reported measures of syntactic development in the developmental literature, but its responsiveness in young school-age children's language has been questioned, and it has been shown to correlate with nonsyntactic measures. This study tested the extent to which MLU shows measurement properties of responsiveness and construct validity when applied to language elicited from elementary school children. Method: Thirty-two typically developing children in two age groups (5 and 8 years) provided four short language samples each. Language samples were elicited in a question–answer context and a narrative context. MLU was calculated with both morpheme and word counts. Other established measures of syntactic complexity (clausal density [CD], developmental level [D-Level], mean length of clause [MLC]) and lexical diversity (lexical density, moving-average type–token ratio, number of different words) were also calculated. Results: Linear mixed-effects analyses revealed that MLU varied systematically with discourse context and children's age group. The syntactic measures, CD and MLC, were found to vary systematically with MLU. None of the lexical diversity measures varied systematically with MLU. Conclusion: Results suggest that MLU is a responsive and valid measure of children's syntactic development across age and discourse context during the early school-age years.


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