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Phonological short-term memory, language and literacy: developmental relationships in early adolescence in young people with SLI


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Gina Conti-Ramsden, Human Communication and Deafness, School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Manchester, Humanities Devas Street Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK; Tel: 0161 275 3514/0161 275 3932; Fax: 0161 275 3965; Email:


Background:  Research has consistently documented a relationship between phonological short-term memory skills (STM) and specific language impairment (SLI). This study reports on the development of phonological STM abilities over 3 years in 80 young adolescents with a history of SLI, investigating the nature of the relationship between phonological STM abilities and language and literacy skills, and vice versa.

Methods:  Tests of nonverbal ability, expressive and receptive language, reading and nonword repetition were administered at 11 and 14 years of age.

Results:  There was striking longitudinal stability of phonological STM capacity in young people with SLI. This finding was consistent for the group as a whole, for subgroups, and at the individual level. Regression analyses revealed reciprocal relationships between phonological STM abilities and language/literacy measures. In particular, phonological STM abilities contributed significantly to later expressive language skills and basic reading skills contributed to later phonological STM abilities. Poor phonological STM abilities related to Expressive-Receptive profiles of SLI (ER-SLI) and to the presence of reading difficulties.

Conclusions:  Relationships among the processes involved in language, literacy and memory in young adolescents with SLI indicate complex reciprocal interactions across development.