University of Oulu

Lahti-Nuuttila P, Service E, Smolander S, Kunnari S, Arkkila E and Laasonen M (2021) Short-Term Memory for Serial Order Moderates Aspects of Language Acquisition in Children With Developmental Language Disorder: Findings From the HelSLI Study. Front. Psychol. 12:608069. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.608069

Short-term memory for serial order moderates aspects of language acquisition in children with developmental language disorder : findings from the HelSLI study

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Author: Lahti-Nuuttila, Pekka1,2; Service, Elisabet2,3; Smolander, Sini1,4;
Organizations: 1Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Phoniatrics, Head and Neck Surgery, Helsinki University Hospital and University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
2Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
3Department of Linguistics and Languages, Centre for Advanced Research in Experimental and Applied Linguistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
4Research Unit of Logopedics, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
5Logopedics, School of Humanities, Philosophical Faculty, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.9 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Frontiers Media, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-04-21


Previous studies of verbal short-term memory (STM) indicate that STM for serial order may be linked to language development and developmental language disorder (DLD). To clarify whether a domain-general mechanism is impaired in DLD, we studied the relations between age, non-verbal serial STM, and language competence (expressive language, receptive language, and language reasoning). We hypothesized that non-verbal serial STM differences between groups of children with DLD and typically developing (TD) children are linked to their language acquisition differences. Fifty-one children with DLD and sixty-six TD children participated as part of the HelSLI project in this cross-sectional study. The children were 4–6-year-old monolingual native Finnish speakers. They completed several tests of language and cognitive functioning, as well as new game-like tests of visual and auditory non-verbal serial STM. We used regression analyses to examine how serial STM moderates the effect of age on language. A non-verbal composite measure of serial visual and auditory STM moderated cross-sectional development of receptive language in the children with DLD. This moderation was not observed in the TD children. However, we found more rapid cross-sectional development of non-verbal serial STM in the TD children than in the children with DLD. The results suggest that children with DLD may be more likely to have compromised general serial STM processing and that superior non-verbal serial STM may be associated with better language acquisition in children with DLD.

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Series: Frontiers in psychology
ISSN: 1664-1078
ISSN-E: 1664-1078
ISSN-L: 1664-1078
Volume: 12
Article number: 608069
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.608069
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 6121 Languages
Funding: This study is part of a more extensive research project, the Helsinki longitudinal SLI study (HelSLI, and its cognitive subproject.
Dataset Reference: The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:
Copyright information: © 2021 Lahti-Nuuttila, Service, Smolander, Kunnari, Arkkila and Laasonen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.