Life-span changes to adults' language: Effects of memory and genre
Cambridge University Press
Scholarly/refereed, publisher version
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Three different language samples were collected from a group of young adults, 18 to 28 years of age, and a group of elderly adults, 60 to 92 years of age: an oral questionnaire eliciting information about the adults' background, education, and current health and activities; an oral statement describing the person they most admired; and a written statement recounting the most significant event in their lives. In addition, the WAIS vocabulary and digit-span tests were administered to the adults. Age-related changes in the length, clause structure, and fluency of the adults' oral answers and oral and written statements were investigated. There was an overall decrement in the complexity of adults' oral and written statements attributable to an age-related loss of left-branching clauses which occurred in all three language samples. Correlations between the length, clause, and fluency measures from the language samples and the education, health, and WAIS vocabulary and digit-span tests revealed that better-educated adults scored higher on the WAIS vocabulary test, produced longer utterances, and used more right-branching clauses, and that adults with greater memory capacity, as measured by the WAIS Digits Backward test, produced more complex utterances and used more right- and left-branching clauses. Judges found the statements from the elderly adults to be more interesting and clearer than those from the young adults. This finding suggests that there is a trade-off between producing complex syntactic structures and producing clear and interesting prose.
Kemper, S., Kynette, D., Rash, S., O'Brien, K., & Sprott, R. (1989) Life-span changes to adults' language: Effects of memory and genre. Applied Psycholinguistics, 10, 49-66. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0142716400008419
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