Complex Syntax Production in Preschool Teacher Talk
Fisher, Jamie D.
The purpose of this study was to explore the extent to which preschool teachers use complex syntax in their verbal interactions with preschool children. Of interest was whether the amount of complex syntax preschool teachers produce varies based on the family socio-economic status (SES) of the preschool children. Thirty preschool teachers serving children from lower and higher SES families participated in the study. Teachers varied in education level and years of experience. Teacher utterances from audio-recorded teacher-children interactions during a morning of classroom activities were orthographically transcribed and coded for 11 types of complex syntax, an “other” code, and for complement-taking verbs (CTVs). There was no significant difference between preschool teachers that taught children from lower SES families and preschool teachers that taught children from higher SES families in proportion of utterances that included complex syntax or the number of different CTVs. The means and standard deviations were comparable across the two SES groups (i.e., the proportion of utterances that included complex syntax: d = 0.18; the number of different CTVs: d = 0.15). Despite differences in the family SES of children in the preschool classrooms, teachers produced a similar proportion of complex syntax and number of different CTVs. The findings suggest that regardless of whether preschool children from lower and higher SES are receiving comparable adult complex syntax input at home, they are at least receiving comparable teacher complex syntax input at school. Implications for parent training programs targeting language input in the homes as an intervention for increasing complex syntax development and skills in children from lower SES families are discussed.