Identifying Morphological Impairment in Young African American English Speakers: Phase 1




Burns, Frances A.
Marks, Rachel L.

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Purpose: Copula/auxiliary verb forms were examined for differences in the production rates between typically-developing (TD) and specific language impaired (SLI) children who spoke African American English (AAE). Method: The narratives of TD (n=38) and SLI (n=20) children, who spoke "some" and "strong" variations (V) of AAE were examined for auxiliary/copula verb forms (is, are, am, was, were). The verbs and allomorphs were coded as present/absent, and the prephoneme for each form was identified. Proportions of present/absent forms and preceding phonemes were calculated using sample proportion statistics. Results: No significant differences were found between TD and SLI participants for combined auxiliary/copula forms for any preceding phonemes; no difference was found between "strongV" TD and SLI" auxiliary/copula form production for any phoneme; nor for "someV" TD and SLI" auxiliary/copula form production for any consonant. Participants in the "someV-TD" and "strongV-SLI" groups outperformed the "someVSLI" group in the production of auxiliaries when there was a preceding vowel. The "someV-TD" group produced copula forms at a higher rate than the "strongV-TD and "someV-SLI" groups when there was a preceding vowel. Conclusion: Dialect variation appears to play a role in distinguishing TD and SLI groups when the preceding phoneme is considered. Use of the preceding phoneme is thought to be influenced by the type of pronoun (i.e. first-person singular "I’m" and third-person singular neuter pronoun "it’s") that precedes the verb form. Both pronoun types are obligatory in AAE, thus typically-developing AAE speaking children are expected to produce auxiliary/copula forms when they are preceded by a vowel, at a higher rate than AAE speaking children with SLI.



AAE, SLI, African American English, specific language impairment, intervention, treatment, morphological disorders, Communication Disorders


Burns, F., & Marks, R. (2008, April). Identifying morphological impairment in young African American English speakers: Phase 1. Presented at the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing Convention, Washington, D.C.


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