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School of Health Sciences

Inner speech in children with developmental language impairments


1st supervisor: Professor Lucy Henry

2nd supervisor: Professor David Messer

Research centre

Language and Communication Science

Project description

A fundamental aspect of the development of thinking involves a progression from private speech to inner speech; that is, from non-communicative speech, which often ‘helps’ problem-solving when children talk to themselves about possible actions, to verbally-based internal thought processes that are not spoken aloud. Children with developmental language impairments (DLI) have delays in receptive and expressive language, yet there is almost no research concerning their use and development of inner speech. Consequently, we do not know whether inner speech may be delayed or absent.

This PhD project will investigate the development of inner speech in children with DLI (n=40), comparing them to typical children with no language difficulties (n=80). All children will be between the ages of 5 and 8 years, reflecting the period during which inner speech develops and matures in typical children. The use of inner speech will be systematically assessed in two ways: (1) during the execution of complex cognitive tasks as a method of directing/regulating problem-solving; and (2) during verbal short-term memory tasks as a method of retaining verbal information for short periods of time. Pilot data using method (2) suggests an absence of inner speech in children with DLI; and one previous research paper suggests delays for method (1).

The findings from this project will have direct clinical implications for language interventions that require children to internalise instructions in order to regulate behaviour, and will provide a better understanding of the significance of inner speech to cognition. The supervisors have considerable experience of research into inner speech in typical children and children in other clinical populations.

Recommended Skills / Prior Learning

  1. A good master’s degree in a related area: speech and language therapy, psychology (essential)
  2. An excellent grasp of quantitative statistical procedures and experimental design (essential)
  3. Knowledge, expertise and ideally experience of administering standardised language, memory and cognitive tests to children and/or adolescents (essential)