The impact of child maltreatment on expressive syntax at 60 months

Inge Marie Eigsti, Dante Cicchetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Although child maltreatment has often been described as leading to language deficits, the few well-controlled investigations of language acquisition in maltreated children have focused on language content rather than form, or have used qualitative rather than quantitative measures. This study examines syntactic complexity in 19 maltreated and 14 nonmaltreated preschool-aged children. Mother-child dyads participated in play sessions that were transcribed and scored for the presence of morphosyntactic forms in child speech and for specific sentence constructions in maternal speech. Findings indicated that child maltreatment was associated with language delay in both vocabulary and production of syntactic structures. There were also qualitative differences in characteristics of maternal utterances between maltreating and comparison groups. Because maltreatment initially occurred before age 2, this study highlights the long-lasting negative influence of maltreatment on language development and also provides the first demonstration of child language delays and differences in maternal speech within a single maltreatment sample.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-102
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2004
Externally publishedYes


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