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Running head: LEXICAL SEMANTICS AND READING

Developmental Dependencies between Lexical Semantics and Reading


Kimberly M. Caron
University of Wisconsin Whitewater

LEXICAL SEMANTICS AND READING

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Summary

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him
that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. (Matthew 25:29 American Standard Version).
Not only does this verse depict physical wealth, but also the effect wealth has on language and
literacy acquisition. The predicted net result is an upward spiral for children with strong
vocabulary and reading skills and a downward spiral, relative to their stronger peers, for children
with weak vocabulary and reading skills (McGregor, 2004, p. 309). McGregor examined the
importance of the relationship between the lexicon and reading development by addressing two
themes: vocabulary plays an important role in reading comprehension, and reading plays an
important role in later vocabulary development. Thus, a well-developed vocabulary is critical to
recognizing and comprehending written text. The speech-language pathologist (SLP) plays a crucial
and direct role in the development of literacy in children with language learning disorders (LLDs)
by assessing lexical development and providing intervention to support parents, teachers, and
caregivers in understanding meaningful interactions and skills for enhancing the childs lexicon.
Assessment
Children and their environments must be assessed in order to diagnose an impairment of
the internal mechanisms responsible for language development (Hoff & Tian, 2005, p. 276). To
accurately measure vocabulary knowledge, the SLP should assess the child in a number of different
contexts. Examining the childs interactions at home with caregivers, at school with teachers,
during play with peers, and self-play will aid in identifying the size and range of vocabulary the
child is using and being exposed to. For young children, parent reports can also be beneficial in the
assessment process. Fenson et al. (1994) stated, Parent report inventories provide valid estimates
of receptive vocabulary size in children functioning below the 16-month level and expressive

LEXICAL SEMANTICS AND READING

vocabulary size in children functioning below the 30-month level (as cited in McGregor, 2004, p.
312). Through methods of observation of play, recorded communication samples, and parent
diaries, the SLP can gain insight into the vocabulary the child produces throughout the day. The
SLP can also divide the childs vocabulary into semantic classes (Paul, 2012). This semantic class
information can be used to decide what concepts and meanings the child is currently talking about
and to aid in determining the concepts and categories for words that are available to be added to the
childs lexicon (Paul, p. 253). Reading comprehension, in part, depends on a well-developed
lexicon; therefore, intervention that builds on the childs lexicon is crucial.
Intervention
To build a semantic lexicon, children must be exposed to words in meaningful contexts
(McGregor, 2004, p. 305). According to Harris, Golinkoff, and Hirsh-Pasek (2011), Infants and
toddlers learn vocabulary not from explicit instruction but in the course of their everyday
interactions with parents and caregivers (p. 50). Strategies for facilitating language include selftalk and parallel talk, expansions, and extensions (Paul, 2012). These strategies are ways to model
new vocabulary, while at the same time capitalizing on the childs interests. Adamson (1995) and
Tomasell and Farrar (1996) found that Parents who label objects in which their child is focused
tend to have children with large vocabularies (as cited in McGregor, p. 305). The SLP can provide
support to parents by having them come into intervention sessions and directly coach them on the
strategies needed to aid in vocabulary development. The SLP can also educate teachers by going
into the general education classroom to provide models of the strategies used to facilitate word
learning.
Another way to facilitate word learning is exposure to written text. Reading out loud is a
way to increase the amount of linguistic input the child receives on a daily basis. According to Bast

LEXICAL SEMANTICS AND READING

and Reitsma (1998) and Hart and Risley (1995), Highly enriched environments, for example,
homes, schools, and clinics where conversational exchange and exposure to print are abundant, may
facilitate vocabulary development (as cited in McGregor, 2004, p. 313). Reading stories aloud and
explaining unfamiliar words can foster word learning and subsequently lead to better reading
comprehension. Using prosody during storytelling can further engage the child and promote
enthusiasm for reading. McGregor stated, Perceptual cues such as salience of the referent,
prosodic characteristics of the new word, and temporal contiguity between spoken words and
referents, drive early word learning (p. 306). The SLP can help provide age appropriate texts to
parents and teachers along with skills to engage the child while reading out loud. Meaningful
interactions through conversation and reading are key to language acquisition and later reading
comprehension. In collaboration with the teacher and parents, the SLP can provide more
opportunities for learning novel words.
Role of the SLP
As stated in the guidelines of the Roles and Responsibilities of SLPs from the American
Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2001), For those [SLPs] working in schools, it is a
requirement of the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that
intervention be relevant to the expectations of the general education curriculum (Roles and
Responsibilities Related to Literacy Intervention section, para. 1). It is the role of the SLP to
provide assistance in modifying the general curriculum and instruction in order for the child to gain
access and success within the classroom. Collaboration with teachers and other educational
personnel is key. Teachers must realize that not only children with LLD, but also children of lower
socioeconomic status and other cultures, need to be met more than half way in order to give them
the advantage they need to become competent in language and literacy (McGregor, 2004, p. 313).

LEXICAL SEMANTICS AND READING

Reversing the downward spiral for children through education and training of teachers, parents,
and caregivers is the role of the SLP (McGregor, p. 309). The SLP must educate them on the
strategies for facilitating language in meaningful ways. If the standard for learning is not adequate
for all children within the classroom, it up to the SLP to recognize which child is at risk and to act
on his or her behalf. As an advocate for each child, the SLP must hold teachers accountable to
ensure children reach their maximum potential. SLPs should be aware that they may not always
have the answer, but it is their job to aid in the process of finding an answer.
The SLP must be culturally competent. They are trained professionals that have the
knowledge to differentiate a LLD from other dialects, lack of exposure to language, socioeconomic
factors, and/or other cultural and linguistic variables. This knowledge leads to more accurate and
appropriate identification of the childs needs.
Conclusion
The SLP plays a critical role in the development of literacy in children with LLD by
assessing the lexicon and providing intervention through social interactions with the goal of
increasing the childs vocabulary. Reading comprehension begins, in part, with a strong foundation
of the lexicon. Increasing the linguistic input through meaningful interactions and exposure to text
can only support the childs literacy development. Enhancing education with meaningful
interactions in the home and school settings is the key to success in vocabulary acquisition and
subsequent reading comprehension. Because reading aloud allows for increased vocabulary
development, do children who are deaf have the same size and range of vocabulary words as their
cohorts with normal hearing? How can one ensure that children who are deaf are receiving the
same amount of linguistic input? Since many of the signs in American Sign Language overlap, how
do children who are deaf learn synonyms?

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References

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2001). Roles and responsibilities of speechlanguage pathologists with respect to reading and writing in children and adolescents
[Guidelines]. Retrieved from www.asha.org/policy.
Harris, J., Michnich Golinkoff, R., Hirsh-Pasek, K., (2011). Lessons from the crib to the classroom:
How children really learn vocabulary. In S. B. Neuman and D. K. Dickinson (Eds).
Handbook of Early Literacy Research, (vol. 3, pp. 49-65). New York: Guilford.
Hoff, E., & Tian, C. (2005). Socioeconomic status and cultural influences on language. Journal of
Communication Disorders 2005, 38, 271-278.
McGregor, K.K., (2004). Developmental dependencies between lexical semantics and reading. In
Stone, C.A., Silliman, E.R., Ehren, G.J., & Apel, K. (2004). Handbook of Language and
Literacy: Development and disorders (pp. 302-313). New York: Guilford Press.
Paul, R. (2012). Language disorders from infancy to adolescence: Assessment and Intervention. 4th
Ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Year Book.