Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Wh-question comprehension, Korean, Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Major Advisor

Letitia R. Naigles

Associate Advisor

Marie Coppola

Associate Advisor

Inge-Marie Eigsti

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


Unlike English, Korean wh-questions do not involve complex syntactic operations of wh-movement and auxiliary inversion; this study explored how this grammatical difference influenced the following two problems. (1) The literature investigating children acquiring wh-movement languages emphasizes relative ease of subject wh-questions over object wh-questions; we investigated whether Korean children acquiring a wh-in-situ language demonstrate the same enhanced comprehension for subject than object wh-questions. (2) Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) demonstrate pronounced difficulties with wh-questions; we investigated the degree to which these might be attributed to grammatical reasons or to pragmatic reasons by testing Korean-speaking children with ASD who are exposed to wh-questions that involve less syntactic complexity. Finally, we examined relationships between children’s lexical development and wh-question comprehension to investigate whether children with ASD demonstrate more disconnected lexical and syntactic development compared to nonverbal IQ (NVIQ) matched TD children. The IPL paradigm, in which children match one of two side-by-side videos to an accompanying audio, was used to assess children’s language abilities.

Thirty typically developing (TD) children and 22 children with ASD were recruited in South Korea. The Korean-speaking TD 4-year-olds demonstrated robust comprehension of both types of questions; however, the TD 2-year-olds demonstrated better comprehension of subject than object wh-questions. This finding suggests that covert wh-movement, which results in greater computational complexity for object wh-questions, imposes a greater working memory load for object than subject wh-questions in Korean.

The low NVIQ children with ASD showed poorer comprehension of wh-questions compared to the NVIQ-matched, TD 2-year-olds. Similarly, the high NVIQ children with ASD showed poorer comprehension than the TD 4-year-olds. These findings indicate that the grammatical simplicity of Korean wh-questions did not facilitate better comprehension of wh-questions in Korean-speaking children with ASD; thus, the hypothesis that difficulties with wh-question comprehension in children with ASD are primarily attributable to their pragmatic deficits was supported.

Finally, the Korean children with ASD demonstrated more dissociated lexical and syntactic development whereas the NVIQ-matched TD children manifested significant relationships between their lexical development and wh-question comprehension. These results support previous findings that grammar and lexicon are particularly dissociated in children with atypical development.

Available for download on Saturday, December 15, 2018