Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type



African American English (AAE)-speaking children’s ability to judge the grammaticality of sentences was evaluated by their clinical status and grammatical structure. The study originated from a need to understand more about the tense and agreement systems of AAE speakers with specific language impairment (SLI) relative to their typically developing (TD) AAE-speaking peers. Tense and agreement forms are typically excluded from the assessment and treatment of children who speak AAE in fear of misinterpreting a dialect difference as a language disorder. As a result, limited information exists about the tense and agreement systems of AAE-speaking children.

The data were archival and from 91 AAE-speaking kindergartners (SLI = 34; TD = 57). The children’s judgments were elicited from the Rice/Wexler Test of Early Grammatical Impairment (Rice & Wexler, 2001). This test was designed for General American English (GAE). Given this, I first examined the items using A’ values and GAE as the dialect referent. Then I re-analyzed the data using percentages of acceptability and AAE as the dialect referent.

Not surprisingly, the A¢ values based on GAE did not differ by clinical group. Although both groups earned higher A’ for the control forms than the zero forms, both groups performed at chance level on the zero forms. When AAE was used as the dialect referent and percentages of acceptability were examined, clinical differences were found, with the TD group accepting the AAE-appropriate overt forms at higher percentages than the SLI group. The TD group also showed greater discernment within their acceptability percentages when AAE-appropriate forms were compared to AAE-inappropriate forms, although both groups accepted the former forms at higher percentages than the latter.

The findings indicate that AAE-speaking children with SLI are not as discerning as TD controls when asked to judge the grammatical acceptability of AAE-appropriate tense and agreement forms and when asked to judge the acceptability of AAE-appropriate and inappropriate forms. These findings contribute to the growing literature base that shows tense and agreement weaknesses in AAE-speaking children with SLI and calls for the inclusion of tense and agreement structures in dialect-appropriate assessments and treatments of SLI within AAE.



Committee Chair

Oetting, Janna B.