Past Tense Marking by African American English--Speaking Children Reared in Poverty

Pruitt, Sonja; Oetting, Janna
February 2009
Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research;Feb2009, Vol. 52 Issue 1, p2
Academic Journal
Purpose: This study examined past tense marking by African American English (AAE)-speaking children from low- and middle-income backgrounds to determine if poverty affects children's marking of past tense in ways that mirror the clinical condition of specific language impairment (SLI). Method: Participants were 15 AAE-speaking 6-year-olds from low-income backgrounds, 15 AAE-speaking 6-year-olds from middle-income backgrounds who served as age-matched controls, and 15 AAE-speaking 5-year-olds from middle-income backgrounds who served as language-matched controls. Data were drawn from language samples and probes. Results: Results revealed high rates of regular marking, variable rates of irregular marking, high rates of over-regularizations, and absence of dialect-inappropriate errors of commission. For some analyses, marking was affected by the phonological characteristics of the items and the children's ages, but none of the analyses revealed effects for the children's socioeconomic level. Conclusions: Within AAE, poverty status as a variable affects past tense marking in ways that are different from the clinical condition of SLI.


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