Oral language competence, young speakers, and the law Academic Article uri icon


  • PURPOSE: This paper highlights the forensic implications of language impairment in 2 key (and overlapping) groups of young people: identified victims of maltreatment (abuse and/or neglect) and young offenders. METHOD: Two lines of research pertaining to oral language competence and young people's interface with the law are considered: 1 regarding investigative interviewing with children as victims or witnesses in the context of serious allegations of sexual abuse, and the other pertaining to adolescent offenders as suspects, witnesses, or victims. The linguistic demands that forensic interviewing places on these young people are also considered. Literature concerning the impact of early maltreatment on early language acquisition is briefly reviewed, as is the role of theory of mind in relation to the requirements of investigative interviewing of children and adolescents. IMPLICATIONS: High-risk young people (i.e., those who are subject to child protection orders because of suspected or confirmed maltreatment, and those who are engaged with the youth justice system) face an elevated risk for suboptimal language development but may need to draw on their language skills in high-stakes forensic interviews. Implications for early intervention policy and practice are identified, and the need for greater speech-language pathology advocacy and engagement in forensic interviewing research is emphasized.

publication date

  • 2012