What is the relationship between Executive Function and language development?

Caroline Rowland was an invited discussant at the International Association for the Study of Child Language, Lyon, France July 2017.


Executive function (EF) is a term used to define the cognitive skills which enable us to co-ordinate processes and manipulate information and includes: Attention control, Inhibition, Working memory, Planning and Set shifting (Miyake et al., 2000). Studies into typically developing children and those with developmental disorders suggest a strong relationship between language and EF.  However it is difficult to separate these out clearly. Bishop, Nation & Patterson (2014) propose three possible causal models between EF and language: 1. Weak EFs lead to language development delay; 2. Language delay leads to weak EF or 3. A concurrent relationship between language skills and EF skills exists but there is no causal relationship.  Furthermore, it is not clear what aspects of language or EF have a more or less close relationship with each other.  To examine these questions and further our understanding of how EFs might support child language development we present a range of papers in this symposium. Four speakers will explore: how variations in language-input during the earliest stages of development are related to variations in EF in typically developing (TD) children (paper 1), how EF, Theory of Mind and syntax development are related in TD children and children with autism (paper 2).  The EF and language link and their relationship with motor skills and school achievement in children with developmental coordination difficulties (paper 3). The final paper argues for a causal role for language in EF development for both children born profoundly deaf and normally hearing children. Presentations by each speaker will be followed by a discussant led synthesis of the evidence by a leading researcher and then an audience led general discussion.


Rowland, C. What is the relationship between Executive Function and language development?, Paper presented at the International Association for the Study of Child Language, Lyon, France, July 2017