Semester of Graduation

Spring 2019

Degree

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

Children learning General American English (GAE) show a relationship between their case marking of subject pronouns and their marking of finite verbs, and this relationship has been found for children with specific language impairment (SLI) and typically developing controls (TD). The relationship between children’s case marking of subject pronouns and finite verb marking has not been examined in children who speak dialects of English that differ from GAE. The purpose of the current study was to examine this relationship in children learning African American English (AAE) as this dialect differs from GAE. The data came from an archival dataset of language samples from 53 African American children, aged 61-74 months, who spoke AAE; 23 children were classified as SLI and 30 were classified TD. Samples from these children were selected from the larger dataset because they included at least one utterance with a subject pronoun marked with objective case (e.g., him is walking). To examine the children’s pronoun systems, utterances with objective case for subject pronouns (e.g., me, him, her, them,) were extracted from the language samples along with similar numbers of randomly selected utterances with subjective case for subject pronouns (e.g., I, he, she, they). Then, for each of these utterances, the children’s verb forms were categorized as overtly marked finite (e.g., walked, ran, swims), zero marked finite (e.g., walk, run, swim), or other (e.g., verb forms without overt finite marking required, such as They always cheer for the Saints). The overtly marked finite verbs were also further coded as either mainstream overt (e.g., walked, ate) or nonmainstream overt (e.g., had walked, ated).

Results showed that 130 (31%) of the children’s subject pronouns with objective and subjective case marking were produced with verbs coded as other, and these could not be used to examine relationships between the children’s case marking of pronouns and finite verbs. However, of 294 utterances with pronouns that could be used, a relationship between subjective case marking of subject pronouns and overt marking of finite verbs existed for the TD, but not SLI group. In addition, the TD group showed a relationship between their subjective case marking of subject pronouns and their use of mainstream overtly marked finite verb forms as compared to their use of nonmainstream overtly marked finite forms. These findings indicate that relationships between subject case pronoun marking and finite verb marking exist for children learning AAE who are typically developing, although the relationship is not identical to what has been documented for children learning GAE.

Committee Chair

Oetting, Janna

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