Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type



This study’s purpose was to examine the use of auxiliary BE forms in African American English (AAE)-speaking children with and without language impairment. The impetus for this work was a lack of information in the literature about BE use in AAE as a function of form, language status, and tasks, and the relevance of this type of data for testing one theoretical model of childhood language impairment, the Extended Optional Infinitive account (EOI; Rice, Wexler, & Cleave, 1995). Thirty African Americans participated: 10 six-year-olds with specific language impairment (SLI); 10 age controls (AM); and, 10 language controls (LM). All of the participants were classified as speakers of AAE through listener judgments. Production of the auxiliary BE forms was examined through language samples and an elicited probe. A grammaticality judgment task, which measured the participants’ marking preference and reaction time of three BE forms, was also administered. Analyses were hindered by limited tokens in the language samples, high variability, and a bimodal distribution for the AM group in the elicitation probe. When steps were taken to address these issues, the following results were found. A significant group difference was revealed between the SLI and AM groups in the language samples for are, with a marginally significant difference for is. For the elicitation probe, a group difference was found between the SLI and LM groups across all three BE forms. The results of the grammaticality judgment task were inconsistent with those for production. For this task, SLI and LM groups accepted standard-marked am at higher rates than the AM group. No group differences were revealed for the reaction times in this task. However, the participants accepted items containing are more quickly than those containing is and am. The results of this study neither fully support nor refute the EOI account, but do suggest the need for more research regarding the nature of child language impairment as it relates to dialect variation across different tasks and different age groups.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Janna Oetting