• Familial aggregation;
  • multifactorial model;
  • proband characteristics;
  • specific language impairment (SLI)

There is now little doubt that both environmental factors and genes are likely to make important contributions to the aetiology of specific language impairment (SLI). The most commonly proposed model for understanding these influences is the multifactorial model. In the present study we examine two expectations based on this model: that there will be a systematic relationship between the severity of proband language scores and the rate and severity of SLI in relatives and that relatives will be more strongly affected if they are relatives of a proband of the more rarely affected gender (female) because the latter require a higher genetic liability to become equally impaired. Ninety-three probands and their 300 first-degree relatives participated in this study. Results showed a relationship between proband severity at age 14 and an increased rate of SLI in relatives. This relationship was strong for child siblings and was significant with respect to both rate of SLI and severity over a range of language and literacy measures. In contrast, higher levels of SLI among relatives of female rather than male probands was entirely disproved.