An examination of the relationship between morphosyntactic and phonological nonstandard dialect features and literacy skills among African-American children.
Ullman Shade, Catherine.
Abstract: A troubling achievement gap persists in the United States, such that
African-American children generally read less well than do their European-American and
Asian-American peers. Often-overlooked contributors to the achievement gap arer the
systematic differences between African-American English (AAE) and Standard American English
(SAE), and the additional cognitive effort likely ... read morerequired for nonstandard speakers to
master written English. Study 1 examines the degree to which the phonological and
morphosyntactic nonstandard dialect density of African-American children are able to
predict their literacy skills. 67 African-American children in grades one through four were
administered a battery of literacy tests. Both phonological (PDD) and morphosyntactic (MDD)
dialect density measures were derived from sociolinguistic interview. Correlation and
regression analyses revealed that PDD and MDD are negatively predictive of literacy skills.
PDD negatively predicts sight word reading, while MDD negatively predicts elision. Both PDD
and MDD negatively predict phonemic decoding, real word spelling, and oral reading fluency.
These findings support the hypothesis that dialect discrepancy accounts for significant
variation in reading ability of AAE-speaking children, but does not support the hypothesis
that MDD is a more important predictor than PDD. Study 2 was a type analysis that
catalogued frequency of nonstandard morphophonemic dialect features. It revealed that the
participants in this sample have a different distribution of features than those found in
previous samples, suggesting regional variation. Study 3 examined two different methods of
calculating dialect density, and found that the most commonly-used methods may not
adequately account for variation in opportunity for occurrence. Since nonstandard dialect
density is likely to influence literacy performance, educators must assure assessment
validity for AAE speakers. Assessments must be able to distinguish between typically and
atypically performing AAE-speakers, and also accurately compare AAE and SAE speakers.
Educators require appropriate knowledge and curricula to achieve two distinct but
interrelated goals: mastery of each dialect with adroit code-switching, and literacy skills
as good as any of their peers. Future research should clarify the relationships of PDD and
MDD with literacy skills, and determine whether the relationship between dialect density
and literacy skills is different among struggling readers than among typical
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2012.
Submitted to the Dept. of Child Development.
Advisors: Maryanne Wolf, and Calvin Gidney.
Committee: Ariel Goldberg, and Julie Washington.
Keywords: Reading instruction, Developmental psychology, and Elementary education.read less