Dialect awareness and lexical comprehension of MAE


This study was designed to examine the relationships among minority dialect use, language ability, and young AAE-speaking children’s understanding and awareness of MAE. 83 4- to 8-year-old African American English-speaking children participated in two experimental tasks. One task evaluated their awareness of differences between Mainstream American English (MAE) and African American English (AAE), while the other evaluated their lexical comprehension of MAE in contexts that were ambiguous in AAE but unambiguous in MAE. Receptive and expressive vocabulary, receptive syntax, and dialect density were also assessed. The results of a series of mixed-effect models showed that children with larger expressive vocabularies performed better on both experimental tasks, relative to children with smaller expressive vocabularies. Dialect density was a significant predictor only of MAE lexical comprehension; children with higher levels of dialect density were less accurate on this task. Both vocabulary size and dialect density independently influenced MAE lexical comprehension. The results suggest that children with high levels of non-mainstream dialect use have more difficulty understanding words in MAE, at least in challenging contexts and suggest directions for future research.

Edwards, J., Gross, M., Chen, J., MacDonald, M., Kaplan, D., Brown, M., & Seidenberg, M. (in press). Dialect awareness and lexical comprehension of mainstream American English in African American English-speaking childrenJournal of Speech Hearing and Language Research.

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