Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Spelling and Dialect: Comparisons between Speakers of African American Vernacular English and White Speakers

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Spelling and Dialect: Comparisons between Speakers of African American Vernacular English and White Speakers

Article excerpt

One characteristic of African American vernacular English (AAVE) is final obstruent devoicing, where the final consonant of a word like rigid is pronounced more like /t/ than /d/. To determine whether this dialect characteristic influences adults' spelling, African American and White college students spelled words such as rigid and ballot, pronounced by either a speaker of their own dialect or a speaker of the other dialect. African Americans, especially those who often devoiced final /d/, were more likely than Whites to confuse d and t. Both African American and White spellers made more d/t confusions when the words were spoken by an African American experimenter than by a White experimenter. Thus, the different phonological systems of AAVE and White speakers can cause them to make different types of spelling errors. Discussions of AAVE and literacy have focused on its syntax, but its phonology must also be considered.

Those who have investigated spelling and its development have concluded that, for children, spelling is largely an attempt to represent the sounds heard in words (e.g., Frith, 1985; Read, 1975; Treiman, 1993). The sound system of a language may differ from one dialect to another, and so it is not surprising that young children's spellings may differ in ways that reflect the phonological characteristics of their dialects (see, e.g., Read, 1986; Treiman, Goswami, Tincoff, & Leevers, 1997). What is more surprising is that dialect appears to influence spelling even in adults (Treiman & Barry, 2000). This result is surprising in light of what Pennington, Lefly, Van Orden, Bookman, and Smith (1987) called the phonological bypass hypothesis-the hypothesis that phonology is superseded by other strategies in the course of spelling and reading development. According to that hypothesis, skilled spellers rely on word-specific knowledge, familiar letter patterns, and morphology; they do not construct spellings of known words from the words' phonological forms (e.g., Burt & Fury, 2000; Frith, 1985).

A second issue addressed by the present study concerned the nature of dialect-related spelling effects. When phonemes merge in a particular dialect, a speller may symbolize the resulting sound segment with the letter(s) most often associated with that segment, regardless of the segment's position. This seems to occur when U.S. children in the early elementary grades spell the intervocalic flaps of words such as lady and city. Children often use d when t is appropriate (e.g., sidy for city); they are less likely to make the reverse error (Treiman, Cassar, & Zukowski, 1994). This pattern makes sense, given that flaps are similar to /d/. When children do not know the conventional spelling of the flap in a particular word, they apparently consider how /d/ is spelled in other words that they know. This phoneme is spelled as d in most positions of words, even though it is often t between vowels. Children's many d errors suggest that they take little account of position in choosing spellings for phonemes. Post hoc analyses reported by Treiman and Barry (2000) point to a different pattern of results among U.S. college students. College students' errors on flaps appear to go in both directions-t when d is appropriate (e.g., autoble for audible) and d when t is appropriate (e.g., loider for loiter). This pattern suggests that adults restrict their purview to other words that contain flaps, a narrow context. Knowing that flaps are sometimes spelled as d and sometimes as t, adults make errors in both directions.

For speakers of AAVE, the final consonants of words such as ballot and rigid merge to yield a segment that is more similar to /t/ than /d/. If spellers consider all instances of /t/ when deciding how to spell this segment, then errors such as rigit for rigid should greatly outnumber errors such as ballad for ballot. This is because /t/ is spelled as t in most contexts in English. If spellers consider known words that contain the segment in the same specific context, then they should make errors such as ballad for ballot as well as errors such as rigit for rigid. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.