African American Preschoolers' Language, Emergent Literacy Skills, and Use of African American English: A Complex Relation Purpose This study examined the relation between African American preschoolers' use of African American English (AAE) and their language and emergent literacy skills in an effort to better understand the perplexing and persistent difficulties many African American children experience learning to read proficiently. Method African American preschoolers' (n ... Research Article
Research Article  |   August 01, 2006
African American Preschoolers' Language, Emergent Literacy Skills, and Use of African American English: A Complex Relation
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Carol McDonald Connor
    Florida State University, Tallahassee, and the Florida Center for Reading Research, Tallahassee
  • Holly K. Craig
    University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Contact author: Carol McDonald Connor, 227 N. Bronough, Suite 7250/FCRR, Tallahassee, FL 32312. E-mail: cconnor@fcrr.org or cconnor@fsu.edu
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / School-Based Settings / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   August 01, 2006
African American Preschoolers' Language, Emergent Literacy Skills, and Use of African American English: A Complex Relation
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, August 2006, Vol. 49, 771-792. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2006/055)
History: Received May 24, 2005 , Revised September 23, 2005 , Accepted November 30, 2005
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, August 2006, Vol. 49, 771-792. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2006/055)
History: Received May 24, 2005; Revised September 23, 2005; Accepted November 30, 2005
Web of Science® Times Cited: 47

Purpose This study examined the relation between African American preschoolers' use of African American English (AAE) and their language and emergent literacy skills in an effort to better understand the perplexing and persistent difficulties many African American children experience learning to read proficiently.

Method African American preschoolers' (n = 63) vocabulary skills were assessed in the fall and their language and emergent literacy skills were assessed in the spring. The relation between students' AAE use and their vocabulary and emergent literacy skills was examined using hierarchical linear modeling (HLM), controlling for fall vocabulary and other child, family, and school variables. Children’s use of AAE was examined across two contexts—sentence imitation and oral narrative using a wordless storybook prompt.

Results There was a significant U-shaped relation between the frequency with which preschoolers used AAE features and their language and emergent literacy skills. Students who used AAE features with greater or lesser frequency demonstrated stronger sentence imitation, letter–word recognition, and phonological awareness skills than did preschoolers who used AAE features with moderate frequency, controlling for fall vocabulary skills. Fewer preschoolers used AAE features during the sentence imitation task with explicit expectations for Standard American English (SAE) or School English than they did during an oral narrative elicitation task with implicit expectations for SAE.

Conclusions The nonlinear relation between AAE use and language and emergent literacy skills, coupled with systematic differences in AAE use across contexts, indicates that some preschoolers may be dialect switching between AAE and SAE, suggesting emerging pragmatic/metalinguistic awareness.

Acknowledgments
This study was funded, in part, by the Spencer Foundation and the Center for Improvement of Early Reading Achievement, U.S. Department of Education. We would like to first recognize the contribution of Stephen Raudenbush, University of Michigan, to this study and to thank him for his help with the analyses. Our thanks go to the members of the Florida State University writing group and Howard Goldstein for their thoughtful suggestions on the final draft of this manuscript. We also thank the families, teachers, and school personnel, without whom this study would not have been possible. This study used data collected as part of the first author’s dissertation submitted to the School of Education, University of Michigan in partial fulfillment of her doctoral degree.
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