Language in Acquisition : Early Lexical Development and Associations between Lexicon and Grammar : Findings from Full-Term and Very-Low-Birth-Weight Finnish Children

(abstract of the doctoral dissertation)

link to the doctoral dissertation


The aim was to analyse the growth and compositional development of the receptive and expressive lexicons between the ages 0,9 and 2;0 in the full-term (FT) and the very-low-birth-weight (VLBW) children who are acquiring Finnish. The associations between the expressive lexicon and grammar at 1;6 and 2;0 in the FT children were also studied. In addition, the language skills of the VLBW children at 2;0 were analysed, as well as the predictive value of early lexicon to the later language performance.


Four groups took part in the studies: the longitudinal (N = 35) and cross-sectional (N = 146) samples of the FT children, and the longitudinal (N = 32) and cross-sectional (N = 66) samples of VLBW children. The data was gathered by applying of the structured parental rating method (the Finnish version of the Communicative Development Inventory), through analysis of the children´s spontaneous speech and by administering a a formal test (Reynell Developmental Language Scales).


The FT children acquired their receptive lexicons earlier, at a faster rate and with larger individual variation than their expressive lexicons. The acquisition rate of the expressive lexicon increased from slow to faster in most children (91%). Highly parallel developmental paths for lexical semantic categories were detected in the receptive and expressive lexicons of the Finnish children when they were analysed in relation to the growth of the lexicon size, as described in the literature for children acquiring other languages. The emergence of grammar was closely associated with expressive lexical growth. The VLBW children acquired their receptive lexicons at a slower rate and had weaker language skills at 2;0 than the full-term children. The compositional development of both lexicons happened at a slower rate in the VLBW children when compared to the FT controls. However, when the compositional development was analysed in relation to the growth of lexicon size, this development occurred qualitatively in a nearly parallel manner in the VLBW children as in the FT children. Early receptive and expressive lexicon sizes were significantly associated with later language skills in both groups. The effect of the background variables (gender, length of the mother s basic education, birth weight) on the language development in the FT and the VLBW children differed.

The results provide new information of early language acquisition by the Finnish FT and VLBW children. The results support the view that the early acquisition of the semantic lexical categories is related to lexicon growth. The current findings also propose that the early grammatical acquisition is closely related to the growth of expressive vocabulary size. The language development of the VLBW children should be followed in clinical work.