Language (development) in youth offenders

UvA, Faculty of Humanities

Research from the USA, UK and Australia shows that young people affected by language impairment are overrepresented in the population in conflict with justice (Sanger et al., 2000 for USA; Bryan, 2004 for UK; Snow, 2019 for Australia). For example, the prevalence of language impairment amongst young offenders has been reported to be as high as 60% in the UK (Bryan, 2004; Bryan et al. 2015). This is six times higher than in the general population in the same country. To date, there is virtually no research on language in youth offenders in The Netherlands, except for Van Dijk Fleetwood-Bird (2017), who reports a prevalence of 75% of language impairment in young offenders in The Netherlands.

Research in Linguistics and Language Acquisition also demonstrates that phenomena connecting language to context and world knowledge as well as certain syntactic constructions are still under development during (pre-)puberty (e.g., Pyykkonen et al. 2012; Gomez-Sanchez et al. 2020; Nippold et al. 2020). Comprehension of such language determines the participation in an offense case and influence the penalty received.

The current project is a collaboration with lawyer Mai van Dijk Fleetwood-Bird (Erasmus University, Rotterdam) and linguists Maria Arche (University of Greenwich), Alexandra Perovic (University College London), Josep Quer (Universitat Pompeu-Fabra, Barcelona) and Angeliek van Hout (University of Groningen), and investigates language comprehension in adolescents who face a journey through the criminal justice system in The Netherlands. This may include the analysis of brochures handed out to youth offenders about the protection of their rights, explanation of communication rules, online material, and possibly transcripts of introductions, explanations and interrogations of lawyers, police officers and judges, etc. Students will choose their own linguistic construction that is known to be either impaired in children with Developmental Language Disorder or acquired during puberty, and analyze the available material on this phenomenon.

Because of the fact that the material is in Dutch, (near-)native Dutch skills are required.

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