African American English Dialect and Performance on Nonword Spelling and Phonemic Awareness Tasks

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Purpose: To evaluate the role of dialect on phonemic awareness and nonword spelling tasks. These tasks were selected for their reliance on phonological and orthographic processing, which may be influenced by dialect use.

Method: Eighty typically developing African American children in Grades 1 and 3 were first screened for dialect use and then completed a standardized test of phonological processing and a nonword spelling measure. The influence of dialect was analyzed in both experimental tasks, followed by a qualitative analysis of dialect use in nonword spellings.

Results: Dialect density measures based solely on the use of African American English (AAE) phonological features explained few differences in phonological processing scores. In contrast, correlations indicated that children with higher dialect densities produced more nonword spelling errors influenced by AAE, an effect most evident in Grade 3. Qualitative analyses revealed AAE phonological features occurring in many of the misspelled nonwords.

Conclusion: After Grade 2, nonword spelling may be more sensitive to the effects of dialect variation than are phonemic awareness tasks. It is suggested that spelling may be a more sensitive clinical indicator of difficulties in integrating the phonological and orthographic information needed for fluent decoding skill.

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American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, v. 16, issue 2, p. 157-168