With National Science Foundation support, Dr. Lisa Green will conduct three years of research on children's development of African American English (AAE). AAE differs from mainstream English in its syntax and semantics (e.g., tense/aspect and negation). For instance, AAE can indicate habitual meaning with the aspectual marker BE (e.g., "These printers be printing ten pages per minute" meaning that the printers usually print ten pages per minute). This project aims to: (1) identify such patterns in 3-5 year-old AAE-speakers; (2) analyze the patterns; and (3) compare them to those characterizing the speech of adolescents and adults in the same geographical area. The project will rely on several types of data. Naturalistic speech, elicited utterances, and grammaticality judgments will be used to test children's development of AAE grammar, with particular focus on tense/aspect, negation, existential marking, and question systems. In addition, children will show their understanding of relevant constructions by acting out the meanings of sentences.
This research is significant because it identifies developmental patterns and the stages at which child AAE speakers make the subtle meaning distinctions that are associated with the adult grammar. The project's findings may apply to both communication disorders and education. Researchers in communication disorders have realized the importance of accurate descriptions of AAE as they design tools to assess language development. The descriptions in this research will be accessible to them. This research may also help in developing curricula in programs such as Head Start. It might also affect methods of language and literacy instruction in grade school. The data description and analyses resulting from this research will also be useful in devising psycholinguistic tests relating the use of AAE patterns and reading achievement.