Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Communication Sciences and Disorders

Major Professor

Ruth Huntley Bahr, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elaine R. Silliman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kelly Lamar Crain, Ph.D.


spelling errors, linguistic features, African American English, spelling development, spelling assessment


Spelling development is a linguistic process which involves the interaction of phonological, orthographic, and morphological knowledge (Bahr, Silliman, & Berninger, in press). It is also clear these linguistic factors are influenced by a person's dialect. Previous research has indicated that use of African American English (AAE) does influence spelling performance (Kohler, Bahr, Silliman, Bryant, Apel, & Wilkinson, 2007); however, few studies have considered how dialect use influences spelling as a function of spelling task (i.e., real vs. non-word tasks), error category (phonological, orthographic, or morphological) or grade. A secondary goal was to note if dialectal or developmental errors predominated in the noted misspellings.

The Phonological, Orthographic, and Morphological Assessment of Spelling (POMAS, Silliman, Bahr, & Peters, 2006) was used to provide a fine-grained analysis of the spelling errors of 80 typically developing African American children in grades 1 (n = 39) and 3 (n = 41). These children were screened for language ability and they were determined to be AAE speakers by observing their use of phonological and/or morphosyntactic dialect features when retelling a story. Age-appropriate real word and non-word spelling tasks were developed which incorporated common features of AAE.

A three-way ANOVA revealed that differences in error frequency were dependent upon word type, error type and grade. On the real word spelling task, children in both grades made more orthographic errors than phonological or morphological errors. On the non-word spelling task, students in both grades made fewer orthographic errors and students in grade 3 made significantly more phonological errors, while the number of phonological errors noted remained fairly constant across tasks for the children in grade 1. Common misspelling patterns revealed developmental errors, as well as errors attributed to AAE.

A closer look at the occurrence of AAE features revealed that first graders were more likely to reflect dialectal patterns in their spelling than the third graders. This is possibly due to differences in exposure to the academic register and experience in code-switching. Finally, the real words elicited more AAE features than non-words suggesting that phonetic and linguistic contexts might influence the occurrence and use of AAE.