Nonmainstream Dialect Use and Specific Language Impairment Most work looking at specific language impairment (SLI) has been done in the context of mainstream dialects. This paper extends the study of SLI to two nonmainstream dialects: a rural version of Southern African American English (SAAE) and a rural version of Southern White English (SWE). Data were language samples ... Research Article
Research Article  |   February 01, 2001
Nonmainstream Dialect Use and Specific Language Impairment
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Janna B. Oetting
    Louisiana State University Baton Rouge
  • Janet L. McDonald
    Louisiana State University Baton Rouge
  • Contact author: Janna B. Oetting, PhD, Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, 163 M&DA Bldg., Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803. Email: cdjanna@lsu.edu
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Language Disorders / Specific Language Impairment / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   February 01, 2001
Nonmainstream Dialect Use and Specific Language Impairment
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, February 2001, Vol. 44, 207-223. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2001/018)
History: Received December 2, 1999 , Accepted November 13, 2000
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, February 2001, Vol. 44, 207-223. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2001/018)
History: Received December 2, 1999; Accepted November 13, 2000
Web of Science® Times Cited: 77

Most work looking at specific language impairment (SLI) has been done in the context of mainstream dialects. This paper extends the study of SLI to two nonmainstream dialects: a rural version of Southern African American English (SAAE) and a rural version of Southern White English (SWE). Data were language samples from 93 4- to 6-year-olds who lived in southeastern Louisiana. Forty were classified as speakers of SAAE, and 53 were classified as speakers of SWE. A third were previously diagnosed as SLI; the others served as either agematched (6N) or language-matched (4N) controls.

The two dialects differed in frequency of usage on 14 of the 35 coded morphosyntactic surface patterns; speakers of these dialects could be successfully discriminated (94%) from each other in a discriminant analysis using just four of these patterns. Across dialects, four patterns resulted in main effects that were related to diagnostic condition (SLI vs. 6N), and a slightly different set of four patterns showed effects that were related to developmental processes (4N vs. 6N). More interestingly, the surface characteristics of SLI were found to manifest in the two dialects in different ways. A discriminant function based solely on SAAE speakers tended to misclassify SWE children with SLI as having normal language, and a discriminant function based on SWE speakers tended to misclassify SAAE unaffected children as SLI. Patterns within the SLI profile that cut across the two dialects included difficulties with tense marking and question formation. The results provide important direction for future studies and argue for the inclusion of contrastive as well as noncontrastive features of dialects within SLI research.

Acknowledgments
The project was made possible by a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (R03 DC03609) that was awarded to the first author and an Interdisciplinary Research Summer Stipend from Louisiana State University that was awarded to both authors. Appreciation is extended to the families and staff of the Ascension Parish school system who made the research possible, Jeannie Breaux who served as our SAAE consultant, Lisa Green who shared with us her expertise of nonmainstream dialects of Louisiana, and Karen Pollock who provided valuable comments regarding the design of the study and dissemination of the findings. Thanks also are extended to the many students who have helped with various aspects of data collection and coding. These include, but are not limited to, Amy Brock, Julie Cantrell, Cathy Cavell, Amy Costanza, Jennifer Depew, Lesley Ellison, Lesley Eyles, Lesli Habans, Anita Hall, Janice Horohov, Dia McGowen, Myra Redlich, and Christy Wynn.
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