Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type



Over the years, less attention is given to students’ spelling skills compared to other areas of literacy achievement like word reading and passage comprehension in relationship to nonmainstream dialect usage. Considering that English spelling is based on the phonological and morphological structures of Mainstream American English (MAE), it is likely that children who speak a nonmainstream dialect such as African American English (AAE) will demonstrate differences in their spelling abilities. The purposes of this study were to explore the relationship between degree of AAE dialect use and spelling for a group of first to third grade children, and to describe error patterns using phonological processes and dialect-specific morphological and phonological patterns. Twenty-four children from two local Baton Rouge elementary schools participated in the study. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders were administered the Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation – Screening Test to determine dialect density and two spelling tests. The students’ spelling patterns were analyzed and described in terms of dialect density, written production of dialect-specific errors (e.g., omission of plural –s), and phonological processing errors similar to those produced during speech development (e.g., initial or medial cluster reduction). The results of the study revealed first, that the amount of AAE dialect usage related to children’s spelling skills as measured by a standardized spelling test. Second, dialect usage decreased with grade level and correlated with higher scores in spelling. And third, the ability to accurately spell dialect-specific features in words was influenced by the degree of dialect usage. These results indicate that the amount of dialect use affects spelling accuracy in students in the early stages of spelling development (i.e., first graders); however, spelling accuracy improves as students are exposed to more MAE forms as they advance through grade levels.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Hoffman, Paul