Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Phonetic Inventories and Phonological Patterns of African American Two-Year-Olds: A Preliminary Investigation

Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Phonetic Inventories and Phonological Patterns of African American Two-Year-Olds: A Preliminary Investigation

Article excerpt

This pilot study investigated the phonological skills of 8 African American English (AAE)-speaking 2-year-olds. Spontaneous language samples were transcribed and phonological data were entered into the Interactive System for Phonological Analysis (Masterson & Pagan, 1993) for analyses of phonetic inventory, phonological processes, and word shapes. Data were examined to determine if the phonological patterns seen in AAE-speaking children are indicative of emerging dialectal patterns. Findings provide evidence that 2-year-old AAE-speaking children acquire and use the same phonemes and phonological processes as described in the literature for both AAE-speaking toddlers and toddlers speaking Standard American English (SAE). Although the study participants demonstrated frequent use of phonological patterns consistent with AAE, the results could not categorically distinguish typical phonological development from emergent dialectal features. Clinical implications suggest that although assessment of an African American toddler's phonology need not be different from that of SAE-speaking children, an understanding of typical AAE phonological development is necessary to better differentiate an AAE-speaking toddler with deviant phonological development.

Phonological development is fundamental to the comprehensive evolution of verbal language abilities in children. Understanding the general pattern of phonological development within a linguistic population aids in identifying individuals who deviate from that expected pattern. Such a deviation could subsequently impede the child from effectively communicating and interacting with his or her immediate surroundings. The preliminary investigation discussed in this article examined the phonetic inventories and phonologic patterns of 2-year-olds from African American English (AAE)-speaking backgrounds to determine if their development reflects the patterns of mature AAE speakers.

To date, normative data on the phonological development of children in the United States has been drawn primarily from children who speak Standard American English (SAE). This research has indicated that by the age of 3 years, typically developing SAE-speaking children generally acquire a core set of phonemes consisting of/m/n/b/p/d/t/g/k/w/1/r/ j/f/s/ and /h/ (Dyson, 1988; Newman & Craighead, 1989). During this period of phoneme acquisition and application, children's speech often includes the phonological processes of final consonant deletion, unstressed syllable deletion, reduplication, consonant harmony, stopping, fronting, gliding, and context-sensitive voicing. By age 3, unstressed syllable deletion, final consonant deletion, consonant assimilation, reduplication, velar fronting, and prevocalic voicing begin to disappear from the typically developing child's speech. Processes that persist beyond 3 years include cluster reduction, epenthesis, gliding, vocalization, stopping, depalatalization, and final devoicing (Ferguson, Menn, & Stoel-Gammon, 1992; Grunwell, 1987; Locke, 1983; Stoel-Gammon & Dunn, 1985; Yavas, 1988). Hence, we see that as the child matures, certain phonological processes are modified and eventually suppressed as more adult-like speech emerges. These results are evident in the research on children who are acquiring SAE; however, they may apply only to children developing within the linguistic community from which these data were extracted, namely, SAE speakers. The aforementioned findings thus may, or may not, apply to children acquiring AAE.

Most research on AAE phonological development has focused on comparing the similarities of and differences between SAE and AAE (Dillard, 1975; Haynes & Moran, 1989; Seymour & Seymour, 1981; Stockman & Settle, 1991). Such research has provided a broader understanding of the contrastive features that distinguish these two dialects from each other and of the noncontrastive features that bind them together as dialects of the same language. …

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