Grammaticality Judgments of Tense and Agreement by Child Speakers of African American English: Effects of Clinical Status, Surface Form, and Grammatical Structure

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Purpose: We examined the grammaticality judgments of tense and agreement (T/A) structures by children with and without Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) within African American English (AAE). The children’s judgments of T/A forms were also compared to their judgments of two control forms, and for some analyses, examined by surface form (i.e., overt, zero) and type of structure (i.e., BE, past tense, verbal -s).

Method: The judgments were from 91 AAE-speaking kindergartners (DLD = 34; TD = 57), elicited using items from the Rice/Wexler Test of Early Grammatical Impairment (Rice & Wexler, 2001). The data were analyzed twice, once using General American English (GAE) as the reference and A’ scores, and again using AAE as the reference and percentages of acceptability.

Results: Although the groups differed using both metrics, the percentages of acceptability tied the DLD T/A deficit to judgments of the overt forms, while also revealing a general DLD weakness judging sentences that are ungrammatical in AAE. Judgments of the overt T/A forms by both groups correlated with their productions of these forms and their language test scores, and both groups showed structure-specific form preferences (is: overt > zero vs. verbal -s: overt = zero).

Conclusions: The findings demonstrate the utility of grammaticality judgment tasks for revealing weaknesses in T/A within AAE-speaking children with DLD, while also calling for more studies using AAE as the dialect reference when designing stimuli and coding systems.

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Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research

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