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Short-term phonological memory: A crucial system for language development?
Baddeley, A.D., Gathercole, S. & Papagno, C.
In Current Issues in Natural Language Processing (Proceedings of a Conference held at University of Texas, Feb. 15-16, 1991), Center for Cognitive Science, University of Texas.
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We present evidence that short-term phonological memory, as represented by the Phonological Loop component of Working Memory, plays a crucial role in the long-term acquisition and development of language. We demonstrate first that a neuropsychological patient with a very pure and specific deficit in phonological short-term memory is dramatically impaired at new phonological learning, while showing a normal capacity for learning pairs of already meaningful words. Secondly, we show that children who were identified as having a specific disorder in language development prove to have a particularly marked deficit in short-term phonological memory, performing at a substantially poorer level than younger children who were matched with them for degree of language development. In the case of normal children, we show a close association between a short-term phonological task, the capacity to echo back an unfamiliar non-word, and level of vocabulary development, together with cross-lagged correlational evidence suggesting that non-word repetition drives vocabulary acquisition, rather than the reverse. We show that children selected as having poor non-word repetition demonstrate impaired new learning of unfamiliar names when compared to children of equal intelligence but higher non-word repetition capacity. Finally, a parallel study by Service has shown a close association between the capacity of young Finnish children to repeat back unfamiliar English pseudo-words, and their performance two years later on tests of English language learning. We conclude by suggesting that the short-term phonological loop component of working memory plays a crucial role in the acquisition of language.