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American Dialect Society Anaheim, CA Jan. 2006 The Impact of Dialect on the Rate and Order of Phonological Development - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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American Dialect Society Anaheim, CA Jan. 2006 The Impact of Dialect on the Rate and Order of Phonological Development. Shelley L. Velleman*, Barbara Zurer Pearson*, Timothy J. Bryant + & Tiffany Charko @ *University of Massachusetts-Amherst + University of New Hampshire

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American Dialect SocietyAnaheim, CA Jan. 2006The Impact of Dialect on the Rate and Order of Phonological Development

Shelley L. Velleman*, Barbara Zurer Pearson*, Timothy J. Bryant+ & Tiffany Charko@

*University of Massachusetts-Amherst

+University of New Hampshire

@Agawam Public Schools

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Research supported by

NIH contract N01-DC-8-2104* and

NSF Award BCS-0318135


Contact for information:

With special thanks to l.jpg

With special thanks to

The Psychological Corporation,

who collected the data,

a host of dedicated graduate and

undergraduate students, and

our colleagues in the

UMass NIH Working Groups on AAE.

Aae african american english l.jpg
AAE: African American English

  • Also called African American Vernacular English (AAVE), Black English, Ebonics, etc.

    • Spoken by many Blacks in the U.S.

    • Pronunciation in some respects similar to Southern American English

    • Pronunciation and grammar in some respects similar to West African languages

    • Shares many characteristics with other Creole English dialects spoken by Blacks

  • Stigmatized in the U.S.

  • Children who speak AAE are often referred for special education or speech-language pathology services

Terminology l.jpg

We are comparing MAE learners to “AAE learners”


AAE learners are actually learning both dialects;

AAE is their 1st dialect, so we are making the assumption that it will have the most impact on the order and rate of their phonological development

Terminology cont l.jpg
Terminology, cont.

“Match”: child’s form matches adult MAE form

“Non-match”: child’s form does not match adult MAE match

Terminology cont7 l.jpg


Specific to AAE

NOT characteristic of MAE



Common to AAE



Terminology, cont.:

Seymour & Seymour, 1977

Key segmental features of aae predicted to be contrastive l.jpg

Same phonemic repertoire (with possible exception of voiced “th”) but

Interdental fricatives replaced by labiodentals or alveolars, depending on context

Postvocalic liquids: Vowelized, absent; /r/ hyperarticulated (varies geographically)

Final obstruents more weakened (devoiced, glottalized), especially alveolars

str-, “shr-”  skr- (lexical?)

Key Segmental Features of AAE Predicted to be Contrastive

Key phonotactic features of aae predicted to be contrastive l.jpg
Key “th”) Phonotactic Features of AAEPredicted to be Contrastive

Same structural repertoire but

  • Weak syllable deletion from iambics (or “stress shift” to trochaic)

  • Final consonant clusters reduced at higher rate, especially /___##C

  • Final obstruents and nasals omitted more frequently, especially alveolars, especially /____##C

  • Avoid sonority violations (lexical “metathesis”, very stigmatized)

    Thus, phonotactic structures tend to be less complex

Impact of ambient language l.jpg
Impact of Ambient Language “th”)

Previous cross-linguistic research has shown that frequency of occurrence impacts rate and order of phonological acquisition:

  • Kehoe & Lleo, 2002

  • Demuth, 2002

  • Roark & Demuth, 2000

  • Pearson et al., 1995

  • Boysson-Bardies & Vihman, 1991

Research question l.jpg
Research Question “th”)

What is the impact on rate and order of phonological development of learning two dialects that differ primarily with respect to frequency of occurrence, especially of complex phonotactic structures?

Hypothesis 1 l.jpg
Hypothesis 1 “th”)

  • Frequency will impact rate and order of acquisition even in two dialects with the same phonemic and phonotactic inventories

    • Non-contrastive elements  same exposure in both  equivalent mastery in both

    • Contrastive elements  less exposure in one dialect  later mastery in that dialect

Hypothesis 2 l.jpg
Hypothesis 2 “th”)

  • Phonotactic and segmental frequency will interact

    • Most segments will be contrastive only in marked environments

    • For AAE, only interdental fricatives will be contrastive in all environments, marked and unmarked

Hypothesis 3 l.jpg
Hypothesis 3 “th”)

  • In the dialect with less exposure to more complex phonotactic structures (AAE), phonetic development will outpace phonotactic development (in comparison to MAE).

    • AAE will have more phonotactic non-matches to MAE than segmental; MAE vice versa

Study sample l.jpg
Study sample: “th”)

Children tested by The Psychological Corporation as part of the standardization process for the DELV.

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Other characteristics of the sample: “th”)

Selection criteria included demographics of community of residence (predominantly African American vs. European American)

Region: South (60%), North Central (25%), Northeast (6%), West (9%)

Parent Education Level 77% ≤ HS

(overselected because AAE usage is higher in lower-income homes)

Format l.jpg
Format “th”)

Sentence repetition

Target embedded in carrier phrase “I see:

a mask; ..that fish breathe under water; ..a dentist”

66 words, each containing 2 segmental targets = 132 targets

44 Contrastive: 88 Non-contrastive

Copyright 2000 The Psychological Corporation

Targets l.jpg
Targets “th”)

*Non-morphological cluster targets

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Coding “th”)

  • Match to MAE target = 1

  • Nonmatch = 0

    Phonetic (segmental) non-match:

    • Substitution

    • Distortion

      Phonotactic non-match:

    • Omission (consonant or syllable)

    • Epenthesis (consonant or syllable)

    • Movement (consonant or syllable)

H1 comparison of non matches per child by position l.jpg
H1: Comparison of non-matches “th”) per child by position

Phonetic order of acquisition initial consonants l.jpg
Phonetic order of acquisition: “th”) Initial consonants

Dialects differ at p=.014 but p=.952 without voiced “th”.

All other initial consonants, including voiceless “th”,

acquired at the same time in both dialect groups.

Initial r substitutions by age and dialect l.jpg
Initial / “th”) r/ substitutions by age and dialect

p = .034 (chi-square)

Phonetic order of acquisition final c s l.jpg
Phonetic order of acquisition: final C’s “th”)

p <.0001 for age and dialect, even without voiced “th”.

Unexpected result: Non-morphological final /s, z/

mastered earlier by AAE learners

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Initial Cluster Dialect Differences “th”)

  • Reminder: In AAE

  • str-  skr

  • e.g., [skrit] street

  • “shr-”  skr- e.g., [skrImp] shrimp(Lexical?)

  • Note: Even in contrastive clusters such as these, /r/ itself is relatively preserved.

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  • /d/: less frequent in final position in AAE only

  • (glottalized, devoiced, omitted)

  • 4 years difference between AAE &

  • MAE in final position

  • 1 year difference between AAE &

  • MAE in initial position

  • More vulnerable in other marked

  • contexts, e.g., more frequent non-match

  • in unstressed syllables even in initial

  • position (dusty vs. destroy)

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But that includes final consonants and final clusters, both of which tend to be omitted -- no surprise.

What if we focus our analysis only on initial clusters, which are:

  • Not significantly different in % mismatches by dialect

  • Not yet mastered by either group?

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Initial cluster mismatch types of which tend to be omitted -- no surprise.


Summary l.jpg
Summary of which tend to be omitted -- no surprise.

  • Certain segments (e.g., voiced “th”) and positions (e.g., ___#) are contrastive between dialects

  • A deficit model is inappropriate: Frequencies of occurrence in the dialect influence order of acquisition

  • MAE speakers acquire certain phonemes (t, d, interdentals) ahead of AAE speakers

  • AAE speakers acquire certain phonemes (s, r) ahead of MAE speakers

Summary cont l.jpg
Summary, cont. of which tend to be omitted -- no surprise.

  • There are interactions between phonotactic and segmental frequency effects (e.g., /d/)

  • Focus on learning complex phonotactics delays acquisition of more difficult segments (MAE); decreased attention to complex phonotactics lowers age of acquisition of later segments, even in more challenging contexts (AAE)

References l.jpg
References of which tend to be omitted -- no surprise.

  • Boysson-Bardies, B., & Vihman, M. M. (1991). Adaptation to language: Evidence from babbling and first words in four languages. Language, 67, 297-319.

  • Charko, T. & Velleman, S. (2003, July). The influence of dialect of children’s phonotactic constraint rankings (ND children). Poster presented at the Child Phonology Conference, UBC.

  • Craig, H. K. & Washington,J. A. (2004). Grade-related changes in the production of African American English. JSHR, 47(2), 450-463.

  • Kehoe, M., & Lleo, C. (2002). The acquisition of syllable types in monolingual and bilingual German and Spanish children. Paper presented at the Boston University Conference on Language Development 27, Boston, MA.

  • Pearson, B. Z., Navarro, A. M., & Gathercole, V. M. (1995). Assessment of phonetic differentiation in bilingual learning infants, 18 to 30 months. In D. MacLaughlin & S. McEwen (Eds.), Proceedings of the 20th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 427-438). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

  • Roark, B., & Demuth, K. (2000). Prosodic constraints and the learner's environment: A corpus study. In S. C. Howell, S. A. Fish & T. Keith-Lucas (Eds.), Proceedings of the 24th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 597-608). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

  • Seymour, H.N. & Pearson, B. Z. (Eds.), 2004. Evaluating language variation: Distinguishing dialect and development from disorder. Seminars in Speech and Language, 25 (1),

  • Seymour, H. N., Roeper, T., & de Villiers, J. (2003, 2005) Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation DELV, Screening Test and DELV-Norm Referenced. The Psychological Corp., San Antonio, TX.

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Questions? of which tend to be omitted -- no surprise.