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Master class

In a master class of traditional therapy, Catherine Renfrew’s 1967 Action Picture Test  both encapsulated long clinical experience and foreshadowed what is now recognised as a link between ‘case’ and ‘tense’ in linguistic theory.

Half the responses which the prompts and pictures attempt to elicit comprise a full sentence with an obviously necessary subject like “She fell over and broke her glasses”. The other half allow a ‘fragmentary’ or ‘eliptical’ answer’ consisting in what is now known as a ‘vP’. But the responses also involve past tense forms like fell and broke. Thus the test is particularly sensitive to the child’s ability to manipulate these two pivotal and closely linked aspects of universal grammar, an ability which normally takes a number of years to fully develop. Because it taps into Universal Grammar, the criticism that it ignores British Sign Language can be set aside. The genius of the test lies partly in the fact that the notion of Universal Grammar was only just starting to emerge when the test was developed and published and partly in the fact that it is deeply revealing, simple to administer and score and fun for children.