Equivalent child language assessment instruments across languages: Southern Africa CDI

Thematic Section: Creating language-assessment tools for North, South and in between 

language assessment, language impairment, cross-cultural, language acquisition, aphasia

Frenette Southwood, Stellenbosch University
Helena Oosthuizen, Stellenbosch University
Michelle White, Stellenbosch University; University of Cape Town
Heather Brookes, University of Cape Town
Tessa Dowling, University of Cape Town
Michelle Pascoe, University of Cape Town
Mikateko Ndhambi, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University
Katie Alcock, University of Lancaster

Parent reports have benefits that the other approaches to child language assessment do not have. These include parents being able to capture genuine performance otherwise unavailable to the researcher or clinician (Fenson, Marchman, Thal, Dale, Reznick, & Bates 2007); obtaining information on developmental expectations within the child’s family and cultural context (Guiberson, Rodriquez & Dale 2011); and typically quick, easy, cost-effective administration (Sachse & Von Sudodoletz 2008).
The MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (CDI), one form of parent report, assesses vocabulary and gestures in infants and vocabulary and early grammar in toddlers. CDIs have been adapted for a range of languages, including under-studied languages (e.g., Alcock 2015, Bleses 2008, Reese 2015).
A multi-site team is adapting CDIs for six Southern African languages – Afrikaans and South African English (Germanic languages), and isiXhosa, Sesotho, Setswana, and Xitsonga (Bantu languages) – following a collectively determined protocol. This approach allows examination of (i) universal aspects of child language development, (ii) language acquisition within and across language families, and (iii) how language and culture may shape language acquisition.
Since 2017, the six language versions have been piloted with 80 children per language. Pilot data indicate a positive correlation between vocabulary size, age and grammar. Results of the first pilots enabled item reduction in preparation for the second pilots, after which validation and norming are planned.
A set of equivalent monolingual CDIs (which are not translations of each other) will allow practitioners and researchers to assess and track the language of young South African children in two or more of the children’s languages. Main challenges so far include determining exactly how the monolingual CDIs can be used with children raised in multilingual contexts, keeping the CDIs uniform across languages, and accounting for language variation and variation in exposure to language in rural vs urban contexts.