Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type



In the current study, the past tense systems of children reared in poverty were examined. Guiding the study was Rice and Wexler’s (1996) Extended Optional Infinitive (EOI) account, which makes a number of predictions about the past tense systems of children with specific language impairment (SLI). The goal of the current study was to determine if these predictions apply to other children with weak language systems, such as those reared in poverty. The participants included 15 six-year-olds from low-income backgrounds (LSES), 15 age-matched peers from middle-income backgrounds (AM), and 15 language-matched peers from middle-income backgrounds (LM). All were African American and speakers of African American English (AAE). Data were generated from spontaneous language samples, two productivity probes, an elicitation probe, and a grammaticality judgment probe. These tasks allowed for examination of 11 aspects of the children’s past tense systems. For eight of the 11 aspects of past tense marking examined, children reared in poverty performed differently than what has been documented for children with SLI. For example, children in the LSES group performed similar to the controls on the past tense task but lower than the controls on the past participle task. Children with SLI have been documented to present the opposite pattern, with more difficulties on past tense than on past participle forms. On the elicitation probe, the children in the LSES group also favored the regular form, while children with SLI are known to favor the irregular form. The findings support the specificity of the EOI model for children with SLI. The results also help illuminate some of the ways in which children reared in poverty and children with language impairments differ. This is important because both groups of children frequently score low on standardized language tests and thus are indistinguishable from one another when decisions about service eligibility are made. Finally, the findings of the study provide much needed detail about the language systems of typically developing AAE speakers as a function of social class. Specifically, social class differences between the AAE speakers studied here were found to be minimal and primarily limited to past participle use.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Janna B. Oetting