Communication Sciences & Disorders Faculty Publications

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In this article, we review three clinical responses to the study and evaluation of grammar in children who speak nonmainstream dialects of English. Then we introduce a fourth, system based response that views nonmainstream dialects of English, such as African American English (AAE) and Southern White English (SWE) as made up of dialect-specific and dialect-universal features. To illustrate the usefulness of a system-based approach and to distinguish our two terms from others in the dialect literature, we present AAE and SWE relative clause data from two previously published studies. Following this, we present new findings from AAE- and SWE-speaking children’s use of past tense and past participles to further demonstrate the value of examining larger units (i.e., systems) of a grammar to identify a child’s language strengths and weaknesses. We conclude by arguing that a system-based approach moves us beyond our field’s preoccupation with the nonmainstream aspects of children’s dialects while also moving us beyond Brown’s 14 morphemes. Although the focus of the article is on assessment, the content is relevant to the treatment of grammar because effective promotion of any child’s grammar (including the grammars of those who speak nonmainstream dialects of English) will occur only when we begin to view the child’s grammar as a system rather than as a sum of its parts.


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