What follows is an abbreviated list of some linguistic aspects of the English language along with their functions. As with any system of symbols, such as drawing, math, and language, this list is meant to convey an interpretation of reality. Just as the Mona Lisa is not the actual woman used as the model, squiggles on a map of England are not the actual England, and buildings and roads are composed of bricks and mortar rather than the equations used to combine building materials, this list is meant merely as a representation. Significant overlap exists. And as with any symbolic representation, any part of it that does not assist may reasonably be ignored. Keep in mind that the functions answer the question of why we learn the units. For example: Why do we learn idioms? To provide flexibility, creativity, and social status to our language.
Earlier, I was tutoring some speech kids working on reading. I just happened to have some comprehension flash cards targeting comprehension – oral or reading – of specific targets. These kids needed help with reading more than oral language, and so because I don’t have a lot of materials targeting reading, I decided to use the cards. One deck had about 12 cards with negative contractions (can’t, aren’t, isn’t, etc.), and the other deck had regular plurals.
Bottom line – this activity rocked. The kids missed the first couple. I told them to focus on “those tricky word endings,” (you know the kind that so many speech and language kids miss in oral language), and after struggling with the next few cards, by the end, they were getting it with no problems. They’d improved right then and there.
That got me thinking. These kids didn’t have deficits with plurals and contractions in oral language. But they did in reading. And I bet they did in writing too. They used to have these kind of errors in oral language, and we know from the research that young kids with speech and language deficits often turn into kids with reading deficits. I’ve never seen anybody targeting specific language structures like these in reading, but I’m pretty sure it would be a good idea.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone specifically teach functions. Well, maybe, but definitely it seems rare. Which is a shame, because functions are huge in expressive language and semantics specifically. If you want someone to be better at describing, one of the best things you can do is teach functions. And if you want somebody to be better at expressive language, one of the best things you can do is to work on improving describing. Just a little contemplation can reveal just how common functions are in describing. Filling in the blank in “What’s a _______?” for so many things requires a function for the answer.
What’s a refrigerator? It’s an appliance (category) that keeps food cold (function).
What’s a ruler? It’s something that measures length (function).
What are quotation marks? They’re a type of punctuation (category) that shows that somebody is saying something (function).
Come to think of it, maybe I need to do a blog post about how we should teach categories more too. Anyway, assessing for deficits in using functions are common in tests and screens such as the DIAL, the CELF, and the PLS tests, so it’s easy to figure out if a kid has difficulties in this area. Someday good language therapy will include teaching functions to kids we’ve identified as having function using deficits. Hopefully that day won’t be too far away.
This question seems to perplex many, and the numbers do seem pretty staggering. Recent figures are something like 96% of SLPs being women in the U.S., with similar numbers abroad. As a male speech-language pathologist I thought I would chip in a few reasons why I believe these numbers are the way they are.
Some of these reasons have been offered before. They include
- There’s a perception of low opportunity and pay, especially considering the cost of the at least six years of college education required to become an SLP. This has been extensively discussed, such as here and here. Generally, there seems to be some justification for the perception, though it’s probably true that opportunity and pay is decreasing in many professions as the middle class continues its long decline.
- Gender roles and expectations definitely play a part. Fortunately, I had someone who knew about the field that suggested speech and language pathology as a possibility for me – a college professor trying to finally give me some direction as I was just about to graduate with a degree in communication. I had never even considered this profession, nor did I even know about it, before I was 22 years old. I’m guessing that more women than men have speech pathology suggested to them by others thanks at least in some part to gender expectations.
- Speech pathology is a helping, nurturing profession, which tends to attract women. Many men just tend to think that they can’t derive as much satisfaction from helping others. I obviously disagree, but I do understand how it took me so long of my own life to realize this.
I have a few additional reasons contributing to the huge disparity which I haven’t seen before.