Academic journal article International Education Studies

Language Deficits or Differences: What We Know about African American Vernacular English in the 21st Century

Academic journal article International Education Studies

Language Deficits or Differences: What We Know about African American Vernacular English in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Abstract

This focus of this paper is to present an overview of the current research which examines the language and literacy performance of African American children who speak African American Vernacular English (AAVE), as presented from a deficit versus difference perspective. Language and literacy and assessment and remediation of AAVE speakers are discussed in sections one and two. Section three of the paper provides theoretical and methodological suggestions to educational psychologists, speech pathologists and developmental psychologists investigating AAVE speakers, on ways to gain a better appreciation for, and understanding of, the intricacies associated with African American Vernacular English. The paper closes with a discussion of the litigation and controversies surrounding AAVE.

Keywords: AAVE, African vernacular English, Ebonics, language deficits

1. Introduction

For more than four decades tensions have existed among scholars, educators, and psychologists with reference to the legitimacy of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) as a language system. Those embracing a deficit view have expressed their concern about the language and literacy performance of African American children who speak AAVE (Harris & Graham, 2007). According to these experts, the comparatively low performance of African American children on standardized literacy activities is due in part to their deficient speech and language pattern. That is, features of African Vernacular English interfere with their performance on classroom language

and literacy activities. In contrast, researchers, educators (i.e., 1996, Ebonics Resolution), and parents (i.e., "The Ann Arbor Black English Case") supporting a difference view argue that AAVE is a legitimate language with its own rules for pronunciation, grammar, syntax, and semantics. These scholars have encouraged the discipline to make a "paradigm shift" with a movement from viewing children who use AAVE as being deficient in speech and language performance towards viewing these children as simply using a different speech pattern (Stockman, 2010).

This paper is divided into four sections. Section one discusses the language and literacy outcomes of AAVE speakers. The second section of the paper considers the issue of assessment and remediation, with a focus on identifying how to assess literacy in AAVE speakers and what steps should be taken towards remediation. Section three offers suggestions for developmental psychologists and others who conduct research on African American children who speak AAVE on employing appropriate theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches. The paper closes with a discussion of the controversy and litigation surrounding AAVE, with a specific focus on the 1974 Ann Arbor School Board ruling and the 1996 decision by the Oakland school board to use AAVE as a pedagogical tool to remedy the poor literacy performance of African American children.

2. Language and Literacy Outcomes of AAVE Speakers

Despite the significant differences in language and literacy performance between African American and White students, and despite the trend that has historically viewed AAVE as a deficient language system, African American children have fairly similar developmental trends in language learning as compared to White children (for a comprehensive review see Stockman, 2010). Specifically, prelinguistic characteristics encountered with infants, and then later elements of sentence construction, develop similarly for both African American and White children (Blake, 1994; Harris & Graham, 2007; Velleman & Pearson, 2010). In fact, by the time African American children enter school, they have developed highly skilled socio- linguistic abilities rich in detail (Beaulieu, 2007; Harris & Graham, 2007). Despite such similar developmental trends, differences have been documented regarding language and literacy outcomes between AAVE and SAE speakers. …

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