Nonmainstream Dialect Use and Specific Language Impairment

Janna B. Oetting, Janet L. McDonald
2001 Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research  
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 σs
more » ... SLI; the others served as either age-matched (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. Keywords dialect; specific language impairment; morphosyntax In a recent publication, Tager-Flusberg and Cooper (1999) summarize the comments of participants from an NIH-sponsored workshop that focused on the study of specific language impairment (SLI). The participants included experts in the fields of SLI and other developmental disorders such as autism, learning disabilities, and dyslexia. As part of the report, the authors highlight important study topics to help guide future research. One of the recommendations listed in the report is the development of constructs that are important for defining SLI in individuals who come from many language, cultural, and dialect backgrounds. The goal of the current work is to begin, at an exploratory level, to extend the study of SLI to two nonmainstream dialects of English. Although the grammatical profile of SLI has been explored in a wide range of languages, including Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Swedish, and even Inukitut (an Eskimo-
doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2001/018) pmid:11218104 pmcid:PMC3381904 fatcat:npnys6vklbebpj4hv2f56ymvie