One of the most common causes of difficulties in comprehension and following directions is specific difficulty with understanding varied syntactic negative forms.  Anything that can be said can, if necessary, be negated.  When this occurs, it adds a layer of complexity and difficulty.  Some facts:

  • There are basic negatives (e.g. no, not, never), negatives that affect varied tense (e.g. do not, did not, didn’t, don’t, won’t, etc.), and negatives in questions (e.g. “Won’t you..” “Can’t you..”, “Wouldn’t you…”).
  • Advanced negation requires increasing demands upon working memory, both with comprehension and production. Negative prefixes, such as un-, dis-, and non- may be difficult for advanced language learners.
  • The specific negative word a child uses may reflect the specific manner in which a parent uses negation to control behavior. Some parents use no frequently, while others employ don’t (Owens, 1996).  Parenting advice often encourages use of positive discipline (e.g., “Walk”, instead of “Don’t run.”) which may affect children’s comprehension of negation. Children who hear both positive and negative versions of the same request may be predisposed to earlier learning of the concepts of negation and opposition.
  • Children often simplify sentences with negation by eliminating subjects, and putting the simple negative form prior to the verb (L. Bloom, 1970).  Thus, an intended sentence such as “Mommy no go bye-bye.” may initially be produced as “No go bye-bye.”
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