Use of Brown's 14 Grammatical Morphemes by Bilingual Hispanic Preschoolers: A Pilot Study

By Bland-Stewart, Linda M.; Fitzgerald, Suzette M. | Communication Disorders Quarterly, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Use of Brown's 14 Grammatical Morphemes by Bilingual Hispanic Preschoolers: A Pilot Study


Bland-Stewart, Linda M., Fitzgerald, Suzette M., Communication Disorders Quarterly


This pilot study investigated Standard American English (SAE) morphological development for 15 bilingual Hispanic preschoolers who were attending a bilingual day care center. Participants included nine girls and six boys between the ages of 2.6 years and 5.0 years (mean age = 3.8 years). Thirty-minute spontaneous language samples were obtained, yielding 100 utterances for mean length of utterance (MLU) and morphological analysis according to Miller's (1981) criteria. Analysis of the data revealed emergent use of Brown's (1973) 14 grammatical morphemes, although mastery generally was not seen at the same ages as those expected for SAE speakers. Clinicians should exercise caution when applying SAE normative data to bilingual Spanish-speaking children.

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Spanish-speaking children make up the largest group of second-language learners in the United States (Roseberry-McKibbin & Eicholtz, 1994). The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2005, more than 38 million Hispanics will be living in the United States, and of that number, more than 4 million will be under the age of 5 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). With numbers like these, the likelihood of a Spanish-speaking child appearing on the caseload of graduate speech clinicians or practicing speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in the school system, hospital, or private clinic is highly probable (Kayser, 1994; Langdon, 1992b; Quinn, Goldstein, & Pena, 1996; Roseberry-McKibbin & Eicholtz, 1994). Even though demographers have been providing these projections for quite some time, we as a profession are not as prepared as we should be to meet the needs of this growing clinical population, which will include limited English-proficient (LEP) bilingual children. By definition, bilingualism is "the acquisition of two languages" (Langdon & Merino, 1992). Another definition offered by Baetens-Beardsmore (1986) is incipient bilingualism--the ability to make sense of a second language either receptively or expressively. Bilingual Hispanic children are often found on the caseloads of SLPs and are the focus of this study.

SLPs encounter many difficulties in identifying Hispanic children who may have speech and language problems. One such problem is the implementation of nonbiased assessment. Because normative data on bilingual Spanish-English language development is limited (Adler, 1991; American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 1985; Kayser, 1994; 1998; Kayser & Restrepo, 1995; Kvaal, Shipstead-Cox, Nevitt, Hodson, & Launer, 1988; Seymour & Bland, 1991; Vaughn-Cooke, 1983), assessment is highly problematic. Several researchers have noted that the use of tests standardized on English speakers will not render valid or reliable results (Adler, 1991; Kayser, 1994; Langdon, 1992a; Seymour & Bland, 1991). This is primarily due to the fact that Hispanics are not monolithic; rather, they present diverse dialectal variations, depending on their country of origin, community, and familial influences and experiences (Anderson, 1994a).

A separate but related issue is that many of the currently available norm-referenced tests examine Hispanic children's speech and language in their native Spanish and are Spanish translations of tests originally written in and for English speakers (Langdon, 1992a). During the standardization of these tests, the Hispanic population may have been underrepresented, thereby making the test results invalid and unreliable for this particular purpose (Adler, 1991; Erickson & Iglesias, 1986; Kayser, 1994, 1998; Restrepo, 1998). Scoring the Spanish test becomes problematic both functionally and foundationally for the monolingual English-speaking SLP because not all SLPs speak Spanish well enough to administer a test in Spanish, thus necessitating the use of a translator. The results therefore may not be reliable or valid. These types of problems associated with evaluating the Spanish-speaking child become even more complex when we consider attempting to evaluate a child who speaks Spanish fluently but is also learning English. …

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