Past Tense Marking by African American English–Speaking Children Reared in Poverty 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 ... Research Article
Research Article  |   February 01, 2009
Past Tense Marking by African American English–Speaking Children Reared in Poverty
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Sonja Pruitt
    San Diego State University, CA
  • Janna Oetting
    Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
  • Contact author: Sonja Pruitt, School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182. E-mail: spruitt@mail.sdsu.edu.
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Language Disorders / Specific Language Impairment / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   February 01, 2009
Past Tense Marking by African American English–Speaking Children Reared in Poverty
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, February 2009, Vol. 52, 2-15. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2008/07-0176)
History: Received July 30, 2007 , Revised February 26, 2008 , Accepted May 11, 2008
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, February 2009, Vol. 52, 2-15. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2008/07-0176)
History: Received July 30, 2007; Revised February 26, 2008; Accepted May 11, 2008
Web of Science® Times Cited: 18

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.

Acknowledgments
Funding was made possible by a departmental graduate student assistantship from Louisiana State University and a Foundation Research Account. We express our appreciation to the administrators, teachers, and parents who agreed to be a part of the project, and deepest appreciation is extended to the children themselves. We thank Lesli Cleveland, April Garrity, Lekeitha Hartfield, Heidi Huckabee, Brandi Newkirk, Beth Wooden, and Christy Wynn for their assistance with data collection and language sample transcription. Gratitude is also extended to Elicia Gilbert for serving as the actress in the video stimuli.
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