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Phonetic inventories and phonological patterns of African American two-year-olds: a preliminary investigation.

This pilot study investigated the phonological skills of 8 African American English (AAE)-speaking 2-year-olds. Spontaneous language samples were transcribed and phonological data were entered into the Interactive System for Phonological Analysis (Masterson & Pagan, 1993) for analyses of phonetic inventory, phonological processes, and word shapes. Data were examined to determine if the phonological patterns seen in AAE-speaking children are indicative of emerging dialectal patterns. Findings provide evidence that 2-year-old AAE-speaking children acquire and use the same phonemes and phonological processes as described in the literature for both AAE-speaking toddlers and toddlers speaking Standard American English (SAE). Although the study participants demonstrated frequent use of phonological patterns consistent with AAE, the results could not categorically distinguish typical phonological development from emergent dialectal features. Clinical implications suggest that although assessment of an African American toddler's phonology need not be different from that of SAE-speaking children, an understanding of typical AAE phonological development is necessary to better differentiate an AAE-speaking toddler with deviant phonological development.

Phonological development is fundamental to the comprehensive evolution of verbal language abilities in children. Understanding the general pattern of phonological development within a linguistic population aids in identifying individuals who deviate from that expected pattern. Such a deviation could subsequently impede the child from effectively communicating and interacting with his or her immediate surroundings. The preliminary investigation discussed in this article examined the phonetic inventories and phonologic patterns of 2-year-olds from African American English (AAE)-speaking backgrounds to determine if their development reflects the patterns of mature AAE speakers.

To date, normative data on the phonological development of children in the United States has been drawn primarily from children who speak Standard American English (SAE). This research has indicated that by the age of 3 years, typically developing SAE-speaking children generally acquire a core set of phonemes consisting of/m/n/b/p/d/t/g/k/w/1/r/ j/f/s/ and /h/ (Dyson, 1988; Newman & Craighead, 1989). During this period of phoneme acquisition and application, children's speech often includes the phonological processes of final consonant deletion, unstressed syllable deletion, reduplication, consonant harmony, stopping, fronting, gliding, and context-sensitive voicing. By age 3, unstressed syllable deletion, final consonant deletion, consonant assimilation, reduplication, velar fronting, and prevocalic voicing begin to disappear from the typically developing child's speech. Processes that persist beyond 3 years include cluster reduction, epenthesis, gliding, vocalization, stopping, depalatalization, and final devoicing (Ferguson, Menn, & Stoel-Gammon, 1992; Grunwell, 1987; Locke, 1983; Stoel-Gammon & Dunn, 1985; Yavas, 1988). Hence, we see that as the child matures, certain phonological processes are modified and eventually suppressed as more adult-like speech emerges. These results are evident in the research on children who are acquiring SAE; however, they may apply only to children developing within the linguistic community from which these data were extracted, namely, SAE speakers. The aforementioned findings thus may, or may not, apply to children acquiring AAE.

Most research on AAE phonological development has focused on comparing the similarities of and differences between SAE and AAE (Dillard, 1975; Haynes & Moran, 1989; Seymour & Seymour, 1981; Stockman & Settle, 1991). Such research has provided a broader understanding of the contrastive features that distinguish these two dialects from each other and of the noncontrastive features that bind them together as dialects of the same language. AAE does need to be examined as an independent entity, however. In order to accurately identify children who may have language deficiencies, researchers need to establish normative data for their linguistic population so that individual performance can be appropriately compared. As previous data collected from SAE-speaking populations have resulted in a better understanding of the normal development among that population as well as aided in devising appropriate standardized tests to identify those individuals who deviate from the expected norm, normative data collected from the AAE-speaking population are necessary to similarly produce results that will be appropriately applicable to children within this linguistic population. Comparing one linguistic population to the expected norms of another may erroneously identify individuals as having a language deficiency when, in fact, their performance is appropriate within their own dialectal expectations.

Likewise, generalizing the conclusions of phonological development based on data derived from SAE-speaking populations to other dialectic populations can prove problematic. Phonology is particularly susceptible to dialect differences (Stockman, 1996); therefore, any analysis of phonology of African American children should consider the implications of AAE. The age-appropriateness of phonological patterns must be made relative to the child's dialect in order to determine whether a disordered phonological system exists. Unfortunately, although research comparing phonological differences between AAE-speaking and SAE-speaking adults does exist, information about AAE phonology in children is limited. Furthermore, the data on AAE phonology of children that do exist have primarily been about older children. Stockman (1996) stated that studies of the phonology of African American children "beginning at an early age are practically nonexistent" (p. 144). Clearly, the need for an understanding of early phonological development in AAE-speaking children exists.


Children with Typically Developing Speech

Researchers have noted a strong compatibility between the developing phonological rule systems of younger and older AAE speakers. Seymour and Seymour (1981) and Haynes and Moran (1989) found speech sound patterns produced by younger AAE-speaking children that appeared to be precursors to the acquisition of later-developing AAE speech sound rules. Examples included more frequent substitution of the voiced and voiceless "th" sounds (Seymour & Seymour, 1981) and the persistant use of final consonant deletion (with voiced sounds being the most susceptible to deletion) in AAE-speaking children who were past the ages when these patterns disappeared from the speech of SAE-speaking children. Researchers have also found evidence that AAE-speaking children as young as 3 years are already beginning to acquire the variable rules associated with the use of certain speech sound patterns in AAE-speaking adults (Stockman, 1993; Stockman, Vaughn-Cook, & Wolfram, 1982). For example, Stockman et al. (1982) found that similar to older adult speakers, 36- and 54-month-old African American children residing in the Washington, DC, area displayed final nasal consonant omission patterns where (a) final /n/ was absent more often than /m/, and (b) both consonants were less likely to be omitted when the next word or syllable began with a vowel (vs. a consonant) or when no word followed.

Researchers have also noted that the phonological development of African American children below the age of 3 years is similar to that of other English-speaking children (Stockman & Settle, 1991). In an unpublished study on the phonological development of young African American children, Stockman and Settle observed that up until 3 years of age, the typically developing African American children used the same minimal core of initial consonants (m, n, p, k, g, h, j, t, d, and s) as their White SAE-speaking peers. Seymour and Seymour (1981) and Haynes and Moran (1989) also found that even though preschool-age and young elementary school-age AAE-speaking children displayed speech sound patterns that distinguished them from their SAE-speaking peers, they also displayed patterns that were similar.

Taken collectively, findings from these and other studies suggest that although the early phonological development of AAE-speaking children may resemble that of other children, there is a point at which their speech sound development may diverge from that of SAE-speaking children. This divergence does not constitute deviant phonological development but rather a "systematic application of phonological naturalness and marking principles that guide phonological variation and change toward a more natural state in different types of language situations" (Wolfram & Fasold, 1974, p. 238).

Children with Phonological Disorders

In addition to comparing the phonological development of typically developing AAE and SAE speakers, several studies have also examined how the phonological development of AAE-speaking children with disorders differs from that of typically developing peers with similar dialect backgrounds. When comparing six AAE-speaking children who were typcially developing and seven AAE-speaking children who were receiving speech therapy services, Seymour, Green, and Huntley (1991) found more frequent use of liquid simplification by the group receiving the speech services. Similarly, when Bleile and Wallach (1992) analyzed the speech-production patterns of African American children who, on the basis of teacher judgments, were assigned to either a "no trouble speaking" (NTS) group or a "trouble speaking" (TS) group, they found little difference between the two groups in their production of final sounds typically associated with AAE (e.g., final nasals, clusters). However, the TS group displayed a greater number of initial and medial sound errors that did their NTS counterparts. The TS group also displayed more errors involving nasals, the/r/ sound, and initial consonant clusters, as well as significantly more errors involving more than one or two stop consonant or fricative sounds.


Given the limited research on the phonological abilities of African American children, particularly in children under the age of 3, this study investigated the emerging phonological abilities of 2-year-old African American children who were from AAE-speaking backgrounds. The study addressed three specific research questions:

1. Are the phonetic inventories of the participants consistent with the reported developmental norms for typically developing 2-year-old children from AAE-speaking backgrounds?

2. What phonological processes occur in the speech of 2-year-old children from AAE-speaking backgrounds?

3. Are the phonological patterns that are present in the speech of 2-year-old children from AAE-speaking backgrounds typical of mature AAE dialect?

It should be noted, however, that this study was preliminary in nature, and all findings were compared to published descriptions and norms for SAE speakers, not to a normative experimental control group. It was hypothesized that phonological development would be consistent with what has been reported in the literature for both AAE speakers and young SAE speakers but that AAE phonological patterns would be emergent in young AAE speakers.



Eight African American toddlers (3 boys, 5 girls) ages 2 years to 2 years 11 months (M = 2.1 yrs) served as participants for the clinical study. These toddlers were randomly drawn from a larger population of typically developing African American children participating in a 5-year project directed by Deborah A. Frank, MD, of Boston City Hospital. The eight toddlers came from urban, low-income homes in the Boston area.

Home Dialect Use Patterns. All of the children in the present study were raised in homes and communities where exposure to AAE was apparent and the use of distinct AAE dialect patterns was observed. Home dialect use patterns were determined by observing dialect use patterns of parents/ caregivers during a videotaped interview where they were asked to discuss their children's language development. During review of the videotaped interviews, an informal checklist containing 15 AAE grammatical and phonological patterns consistent with the literature (Craig & Washington, 1994; Mufwene, Rickford, Barley, & Baugh, 1998; Stockman, 1996; Wolfram & Fasold, 1974; Wyatt, 1998) was used to examine the parent/caregivers' dialect patterns. The criteria for determining that the toddlers were exposed to some degree of AAE dialect use in the home consisted of observing at least 6 of these features in the videotaped interview samples. All parents/caregivers exhibited at least 10 out of the 15 features. Considerable variation in the types and frequency of dialect patterns was observed, however.

Parents/caregivers were also asked questions concerning their home language use patterns. Some of these questions focused on the use of AAE. They were asked questions about their use of common AAE speech and language patterns (e.g., "Do you ever use sentences like 'He be...'?"). All of the adult participants responded affirmatively and often responded using their own terminology to describe their dialect use patterns. Although no formal classification system was used to quantify AAE phonological and grammatical patterns, AAE features were consistent with features cited in the literature (Dillard, 1975; Wolfram & Fasold, 1974). Moreover, the community from which the participants were selected was composed primarily of African Americans who presented distinct AAE dialect patterns.

Cognitive, Language, and Motor Ability. As a part of the larger study, the children's cognitive and language abilities were assessed (Bland, 1996; Bland-Stewart, Seymour, Beeghley, & Frank, 1998) using the Sequenced Inventory of Communicative Development-Revised (SICD-R; Hedrick, Prather, & Tobin, 1984) and the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (BSID; Bayley, 1969). Cognitive, language, and motor abilities were found to be within normal limits.

Mean Length of Utterance. In addition to standardized test scores, mean length of utterance (MLU) measures were calculated for all participants as a quantitative index of utterance length; these MLU values were referenced to language-level norms or compared with those of children who speak SAE. Such a measure is helpful in determining whether children of a particular age who speak a common dialect use a similar utterance length as measured by MLU. The results of the MLU analysis revealed a mean MLU of 1.9, within age-expected limits according to Miller's (1981) and Brown's (1975) normative data. Table 1 outlines the BSID, SICD-R, and MLU measures for each participant.


Language Sampling. Spontaneous language samples of 90 minutes were elicited in the Boston City Hospital Laboratory. Three play conditions (i.e., child and caregiver, child and clinician, and child alone) provided an opportunity to observe each child's language under varying contexts. The children were provided with a variety of developmentally appropriate toys to encourage symbolic and imaginative play. Toy items included a Sesame Street[R] house with character figurines; a Fisher Price[R] garage and cars; dishes and pretend food; blocks; a shape sorter; girl and boy dolls with removable clothing, blankets, and bottles; and a Mr. Potato Head[R]. In the child-and-caregiver condition, the participant engaged in a 30-minute free-play session with his or her caregiver. The caregiver was instructed to play naturally with the child as he or she would at home. No further instructions were given so as to observe the child's language skills while the child was interacting with a person with whom the child was familiar. In the child-and-clinician context, the clinician followed the child's lead and was instructed to engage in cooperative play in order to elicit a 30-minute spontaneous and representative language sample. The language-sampling format was conversational and focused on the various toys and items provided for play. Solitary exploration and play occurred during the child-alone condition. The child engaged in 30 minutes of free play with the aforementioned toys and no adult (caregiver or clinician) interaction. The language-sampling sessions were combined to form a composite language sample for later analysis.

The naturalistic language-sampling sessions were video- and audio-recorded. Equipment consisted of a Panasonic WBD5100 camera (in the assessment laboratory) connected to a Panasonic AG6300 industrial type videorecorder (in an adjacent room), a Sony PVM1910 monitor, and a Shure M2627 mixer and sound system. The participating child wore a lapel microphone. In addition, there was a microphone in the ceiling of the assessment room.

One hundred spontaneous utterances were obtained for each child for language and phonological analyses. Utterances were orthographically and phonetically transcribed from the videotapes by two experienced graduate clinicians according to procedures described by Miller (1981). The samples were independently transcribed using narrow transcription of IPA symbols. In the event of questions or discrepancies, a third judge was used, and a decision was reached by majority consensus. If no agreement could he reached, the utterance was not utilized for phonological analysis, which was conducted with the Interactive System for Phonological Analysis (ISPA; Masterson & Pagan, 1993). Only 1% of coded words came into irresolvable dispute, and those words were eliminated.

Phonological Analyses. Targets for phonological analysis were randomly selected words from the beginning, middle, and end segments of the sample. The mean size of the samples was 150 words (range = 116-198) and the mean number of different adult lexical types in the samples was 89 (range = 50-132). One hundred words were utilized for analysis. The decision to use a 100-word sample in the current study was based on a procedure described by Dyson (1988) and Stoel-Gammon (1987) in which 50 utterances were sufficient for phonological analyses (see Note).

The ISPA was used to create a detailed phonological profile of each child. This software assisted in analyzing the systematic patterns of the child participants' productions by establishing a phonetic inventory and performing independent phonological process analyses. (A description of the phonological processes addressed in this study is found in the Appendix). Initially, a phonemic inventory was obtained by extracting phoneme data from the ISPA program. Descriptive analysis included identifying which phonemes were present in all word positions (i.e., initial, medial, and final). The second analysis was the phonological rule analysis, which revealed phonological processes present in the toddler's spontaneous speech samples. In addition, ISPA analyzed the frequency of the word shapes CV (e.g.,/bi/) and CVC (e.g., /baet/, other monosyllables such as VCCs (e.g., /aent/) and CCVs (e.g.,/tri/), and closed syllable use.

AAE Phonological Feature Analysis. The AAE phonological patterns under investigation in the current study included final consonant deletion, cluster reduction, vowelization of/r/ and /1/, and consonant substitutions. Within these four types of processes, this study delineated noncontrastive (typical of both AAE and SAE) and contrastive (typically exclusive to AAE; see Figure 1) phonological patterns.


The ISPA program marks cluster reduction and final consonant deletions as deviant phonological patterns. Data were extracted from these analyses and further analyzed via the Excel software program. To determine if the children were following patterns typical of the dialect, frequency of deletions across final consonants and cluster reductions was tabulated; that is, the total number of times each toddler omitted a phoneme was divided by the total number of times he or she had the opportunity to do so. For example, Participant 1 deleted/t/in the final position four times out of six opportunities, yielding a frequency of occurrence percentage of 67%. These percentages allowed closer inspection of how often specific phonemes characteristic of the AAE dialect were used in the child's speech.

Data were extracted from the ISPA database to determine how frequently the participants exhibited substitution patterns that are typical of AAE speakers. Specifically, substitutions such as/f/for/0/and/v/for/6/in word medial and final positions, as well as/d/for/6/in word initial position, were targeted for analysis.


Phonemic Inventory Analyses

Table 2 describes the phonetic inventory representative of the study toddlers. After determining which phonemes were present in the spontaneous speech of the participants, the ISPA program used a predetermined formula, based on Ingram's (1981) approach to phonetic analysis, to classify phoneme use as "frequent;' "used," or "marginal." Ingram's approach to phonetic analysis addressed these issues by including a criterion of frequency (COF) measure. This figure is based on the size of the sample and accounts for both the ability to use various phonemes and the tendency to use them. The frequency of sound usage is determined by considering both the number of phonetic forms and the number of lexical types (i.e., adult words) used in the sample. This frequency, or count, is then compared to the COP, and the resulting classification of "frequent," "used, or "marginal" indicates how readily a child used that sound (Masterson & Pagan, 1993). In essence, if a phoneme occurred twice in at least two different words, it met the "used" criterion. "Marginal" implied that the phoneme was produced but did not satisfy the criterion for the "used" category. Phonemes occurring "frequently" appeared with a high degree of consistency in all word positions.

According to ISPA analysis, the eight toddlers demonstrated the ability to use all of the stops (/p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, and/g/), and all of the nasal sounds (/n/,/m/, and/n/). The participants also used a number of fricatives (/s/, /f/, /v/, and /h/) and glides (/w/ and /j/). Sounds classified as having marginal use were/z/[theta]/[integral]/t[integral]/[??]/[d.sub.3]/r/and/l/. The phonemes most frequently deleted or altogether absent were /[??]/,/[theta]/, /[integral]/,/t[integral]/, and/[d.sub.3]/.

Phonological Rule Analyses

A phonological rule analysis showed error patterns in the child participants' speech samples. These children used 18 of the 21 processes identified by ISPA. The frequency of occurrence for each process was calculated using the total number of occurrences divided by the total number of opportunities for that process to occur. This calculation yielded a percentage for each process for all participants. The processes most frequently used were cluster reduction (77%), final consonant deletion (41%), stopping of affricates (25%), gliding of liquids (24%), and vowelization of/r/(22%; see Table 3).

AAE Phonological Patterns

Because one of the purposes of the present investigation was to determine if emerging patterns of AAE could be seen in 2-year-olds, the analysis targeted phonological patterns typical of that dialect. Patterns under investigation included final consonant deletion (specifically, deletion of final voiced stops and final/n/), cluster reduction, vowelization of/r/and/1/, and phonetic substitutions (i.e., /f/for/0/,/t/for/0/, and/d/ for/6/). Individual data are discussed next and depicted in Table 4.

Final Consonant Deletion. Contrastive final consonant deletion included deletion of final/n/ (17%), as in/si/ for /sin/, and deletion of final/1/(80%), as in/ba/for/ball/. The noncontrastive deletion processes included deletion of final stops (54%), as in/cu/for/cup/; fricatives (44%), as in/fi/for /five/; and nasals (38%), as in/ha/for/hae/.

Cluster Reductions. The contrastive cluster reduction processes used by the eight participants were reduction of /nt/(77%), reduction of/nd/ (67%), and reduction of/nk/ (100%). Noncontrastive processes were used in both initial and final consonant clusters, occurring in 90% of instances and 77% of instances, respectively. In initial position clusters, the eight participants reduced/sp/(100%),/st/(100%),/pl/ (75%),/gl/(100%), and/sl/(100%). For noncontrastive final position clusters, the toddlers reduced /rk/ (100%), /rt/ (75%),/rd/(83%),/lz/(100%), and/rz/(58%).

Vowelization of Liquids. Vowelization of liquids, whereby postvocalic liquids (/r, 1/) are transformed into a vowel, marking the meaning change originally accomplished by the liquid, is more common in AAE than in SAE. The present investigation showed that the eight participants used vowelization of /r/ an average of 25% and vowelization of/1/ an average of 8%. The vowelization of both/r/and/1/occurred in 25% of instances.

Substitution Patterns. Both AAE and SAE feature a number of substitution processes. Noncontrastive substitution processes included the stopping of fricatives (16%), the stopping of affricates (13%), and velar fronting (13%). Proper consideration of AAE substitution patterns requires segmental analysis in order to demonstrate specific use of AAE phonology. Some of the most common patterns in AAE are substitution of/f/for/0/in word medial and final positions, /d/ for /6/ in word initial and medial positions, and/b/for/v/ in the postvocalic position. Of these three common patterns, only the/d/for/6/substitution was used by the eight participants in this study. This substitution was used on average in 67% of instances, with all of these instances occurring in word initial position

Word Shapes

ISPA was also used to analyze type and frequency of word shapes for each participant. The results indicated that the toddlers produced a diverse number of the word shapes expected for their age. Compressed group data indicated that the mean percentage of CV use was 36%. CVCs accounted for 24% of word shapes. The mean use percentage for monosyllables was 80%, and closed syllable production was measured at 39%. Individual data are shown in Table 5.


Consistent with previous studies, the results of this pilot study provide further evidence that 2-year-old African American children acquire and use the same phonemes and phonological processes described in the literature for AAE-speaking toddlers as well as for SAE-speaking children. AAE-speaking toddlers were found to have acquired the phonemes/m, n, p, k, g, h, j, t, d, b, s, f, w, 1, r/ in initial word position, and phoneme use in general was comparable to that of SAE-speaking children of the same age (Dyson, t988; Locke, 1983; Newman & Craighead, 1989; Stockman & Settle, 1991; Stoel Gammon & Dunn, 1985; Yavas, 1988). In addition, the participants exhibited varied use of CVs, CVCs, and CVCVs that is characteristic of typically developing 2-year-olds. Finally, the five phonological processes used most often by the children were consistent with frequently occurring processes reported for typically developing 2-year-olds, regardless of dialect.

As hypothesized, the present findings provide evidence that AAE-speaking toddlers use a number of phonological patterns characteristic of AAE-speaking adults. These processes include governing classes of phonemes such as cluster reduction, final consonant deletion, stopping of fricatives and affricates, velar fronting, and the vowelization of/r/.

A number of phonological patterns that are typical of AAE speakers were observed in the toddlers in this study. These patterns included deletion of final/n/; deletion of final /1/; and reduction of consonant clusters/nt/,/nd/, and/nk/. Other contrastive processes seen were vowelization of/r/ and substitution of/d/for/6/. Although these patterns may be developmentally appropriate for speakers of SAE and speakers of AAE, the contrastive patterns are more often found in AAE speakers. Because these patterns occurred in a large percentage of opportunities, they are more likely to be emerging dialectical patterns.

Also used were patterns typical of both AAE and SAE: deletion of final stops, deletion of final fricatives, and deletion of final /m/ and/n/. Cluster reduction patterns such as reduction of initial clusters--including /sp/,/st/,/pl/,/gl/, and /sl/--were also demonstrated. Also seen was reduction of final clusters--/rk/, /rt/, /rd/, /lz/, and /rz/. Although AAE speakers and SAE speakers make frequent use of these processes at the age of 2, research has yet to determine if these percentages are more indicative of an emerging dialect than of developmental patterns.

The participants in this investigation used a number of contrastive and noncontrastive processes. Although many of the processes used were noncontrastive, or typical of both SAE and AAE, Stockman (1996) established that AAE differences are more quantitative than qualitative. That is, not only is the specific type of process significant in establishing dialectical patterns, AAE speakers also use noncontrastive patterns more frequently than do speakers of SAE.

Future Research

The next task for future researchers is to use larger samples to determine whether the noted percentages of occurrences for the aforementioned processes exceed those found in speakers of SAE of the same age. As establishing norm percentages for SAE phonology was not the focus of the current study, the researchers cannot claim to establish whether these patterns were truly developmental or dialectical in nature. Many researchers have asserted that linguistic features that distinguish AAE from SAE are not clearly established until after the age of 3 (Cole, 1980; Craig & Washington, 1994; Kovac, 1980; Seymour & Roeper, 1999; Steffenson, 1974; Wyatt, 1991). However, the majority of these studies investigated morphosyntactic features of AAE, not phonological patterns. This study did demonstrate the emergence of both contrastive and noncontrastive phonological patterns that are used in a vast majority of linguistic contexts. Although these processes are consistent with AAE patterns, more research is warranted to establish phonological norms for SAE speakers of the same age.


The findings from this study are clinically applicable for speech-language pathologists charged with phonological assessment of AAE-speaking toddlers. Clinicians should know that an assessment of an African American 2-year-old's phonology need not be different from the assessment used for SAE-speaking children. Clinicians should be able to determine if the child's phonological development is typical or aberrant, based on the presence or absence of age-expected phonemes and phonological processes, despite the child's dialect. The speech-language pathologist should recognize that AAE phonological patterns may be evident as early as 2 years of age and are aspects of the child's evolving dialect rather than being indicative of pathology. Moreover, the data from the current study may assist clinicians in understanding the patterns of normal phonological development in AAE-speaking toddlers so that they will be able to differentiate an AAE-speaking toddler with impaired phonological development. Given the complex nature of phonological development in dialect speakers, it is imperative that clinicians understand the ways in which AAE-speaking children are similar to and different from SAE speakers. These findings are relevant not only to practicing speech-language clinicians but also to special educators, who should be aware of the dialectal characteristics of the SAE population. Phonological differences in the developing child may have implications for literacy readiness, because it is well established that phonological awareness is a particularly important preliteracy skill that has been clearly linked to later success in learning to read. Although this was not the primary aim of the current investigation, it is important to consider that if the child is evidencing dialect-specific differences in his or her phonetic inventories and phonologic patterns, such variance should be examined further as it relates to the child's phonemic/ phonologic awareness. Researchers should continue to provide normative data on the phonological abilities of AAE-speaking children from all social classes and geographical regions of the United States. Such information would assist in the valid identification and description of phonological disorders in children who speak AAE.


Apicalization: Substitution of an alveolar sound for a labial sound (e.g.,/bou/produced as [dou]).

Assimilation of Place and Manner: Occurs when a sound is influenced by another sound in a word (e.g., /tek/ produced as [kek]).

Cluster Reduction (CR): The elimination or substitution of one or more consonants in a cluster of two or three consonants (e.g.,/tri/produced as [twi] or [ti]).

Deaffrication: Substitution of a fricative for an affricate (e.g., /t[Florin]iz/produced as [siz]).

Denasalization: Replacement of a nasal consonant by a homorganic nonnasal (e.g.,/nou/produced as [dou]).

Devoicing of Final Consonants: Occurs when a voiced obstruent at the end of a syllable becomes devoiced (e.g., /med/produced as [met]).

Final Consonant Deletion (FCD): The omission of the final consonant in a word (e.g.,/haus/produced as [hau]).

Fronting of Palatals: Replacement of a palatal sound by a sound made more forward in the mouth (e.g.,/[Florin]u/produced as [su]).

Fronting of Velars: Replacement of a velar sound by a sound made more forward in the mouth (e.g.,/kek/produced as [tek]).

Gliding of Liquids: Replacement of a liquid by a glide (e.g., /rek/produced as [wek]).

Initial Consonant Deletion (ICD): The omission of the initial consonant in a word (e.g.,/fit/produced as [it]).

Interdentalization: Replacement of any target production by an interdental fricative.

Labialization: Substitution of a labial consonant for an alveolar or interdental consonant (e.g., /[eth]e/ produced as [ve]).

Prevocalic Voicing: Occurs when an unvoiced consonant preceding a vowel becomes voiced (e.g.,/pen/produced as [b[epsilon]n]).

Stopping: Replacement of any fricative or affricate by a stop (e.g.,/sit/produced as [tit]).

Syllable Deletion (SD): The omission of a vowel in a multisyllabic word (e.g.,/bnaeanA/produced as [bnaenA]).

Vocalization: Replacement of a liquid by a vowel (e.g.,/aepl/)


1. Participants in the present study were drawn from a larger prospective study funded by NIDA Grant RO1 DA065320 awarded to Deborah A. Frank, MD.

2. The research presented in this article was conducted as part of the author's doctoral dissertation, "Speech and Language Development in African American Children Prenatally Exposed to Cocaine," which was submitted to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 1996.

3. Some of the findings of the current study were presented at the annual American Speech-Language-Hearing Association conventions in November 1999 and 2001.

4. Special thanks are given to the children and families for their participation in this project.


The procedure used in the current study actually exceeded procedures used in other studies of children's phonological development (Crary, 1983; Madison et al., 1998). Such studies found that phonological process analyses on samples of at least 50 words resulted in information similar to that derived from analyses of 100-word samples.


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Linda M. Bland-Stewart, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an associate professor and researcher at George Washington University. She is a licensed clinician who also serves as a clinical supervisor in the Pediatric Speech and Language Clinic. Her research interests are in language development and disorders in culturally diverse populations, prenatal cocaine exposure, and specific language impairments in young children. Address: Linda M. Bland-Stewart, 2201 G St. NW, Washington, DC 20052; e-mail:
TABLE 1. BSID, SICD-R, and MLU Scores for Child Participants
                      BSID                   SICD-R
Participant        MDI         PDI       RCA         ECA         MLU
1                  88          111       24          16           1.3
2                 114          118       24          32           2
3                 109           96       24          28           2.45
4                 112          114       24          32           1.47
5                 102          118       24          32           2.5
6                 117           87       28          24           2.2
7                 108           99       24          20           1.35
8                 106          111       24          28           1.83
M                 107         106.75     24.5        26.5         1.89
SD                 8.99        11.39      1.41        6.02        0.48
Range             88.117       87-118    24-28       16-32     1.3-2.5

Note.BSID= Bayley Scale of Infant Development (Bayley, 1996); SICD-R=
Sequenced of Inventory of Communicative Development-Revised (Hedrick
1984); MDI = Mental Development Index; PDI = Psychomotor Index; RCA =
communication age; ECA = espressive communication
age; MLU = mean of utterance.

TABLE 2. List of Phonemes Used By Participants in
Initial (I), Medial (M), and Final (F) Position of Words

Phoneme                 I               M               F
m                       +               +               +
n                       +               +               +
[eta]                   na              +               +
p                       +               +               +
b                       +               +               -
[dagger]                +               +               +
d                       +               +               +
[tau]                   na              -               na
k                       +               +               +
g                       +               +               +
[??]                    na              +               +
[dagger][integral]      +               -               -
[d.sub.3]               +               -               +
f                       +               +               +
v                       -               +               +
[theta]                 +               -               +
[??]                    +               -               -
s                       +               +               +
z                       +               -               +
[integral]              +               +               +
h                       +               -               na
r                       +               +               na
r                       na              +               +
l                       +               +               na
l                       na              -               +
[??]                    +               -               na
w                       +               +               na
j                       +               +               na

TABLE 3. Frequency of Phonological Process Use Exhibited by the Child

Process                 # of occurences     # of opportunities  % (M)

Final consonant         150                 371                 40

Cluster reduction       107                 142                 75

Syllable deletion        25                 168                 15

Initial consonant        54                 607                  9

Labialization            10                 556                  2

Fronting                 20                 515                  3

Fronting of palatals      3                  46                  7

Fronting of              26                 132                 20

Apicalization             8                 425                  2

Interdentalization        2                 134                  1

Interdentalization of     2                  15                 13
palatal fricatives

Stopping                 51                 287                 17

Stop of fricatives       52                 278                 19

Stop of africates         2                   9                 22

Denasalization            2                 262                  1

Gliding of liquids       22                  91                 24

Vocalization             17                 108                 15

Vocalization of /r/      21                  95                 22

Assimilation of place   128               2,605                  5
and manner

Assimilation of           1                 246                < 1

Assimilation of           1                  51                  2

Assimilation of          69                 330                 20

Assimilation of           2                 156                  1

Assimilation of           4                 187                  2

Assimilation of          21                 296                  7

Assimilation of           1                 239                < 1

Prevocalic voicing       13                 248                  5

Devoicing final           9                 247                  4

Process                         Deviation               Range

Final consonant                 0.18                    12-23

Cluster reduction               0.14                    5-9

Syllable deletion               0.15                    0-9

Initial consonant               0.09                    1-20

Labialization                   0.01                    0-4

Fronting of palatals            0.05                    0-10

Fronting of                     0.09                    0-1

Apicalization                   0.04                    0-7

Interdentalization              0.04                    0-2

Interdentalization of           0.45                    0-2
palatal fricatives

Stopping                        0.11                    0-14

Stop of fricatives              0.12                    0-14

Stop of africates               0.52                    0-10

Denasalization                  0.03                    0-1

Gliding of liquids              0.18                    0-10

Vocalization                    0.17                    1-6

Vocalization of /r/             0.17                    1-6

Assimilation of place           0.03                    1-38
and manner

Assimilation of                 0.01                    0-1

Assimilation of                 0.02                    0-1

Assimilation of                 0.15                    0-30

Assimilation of                 0.02                    0-1

Assimilation of                 0.05                    0-30

Assimilation of                 0.01                    0-8

Assimilation of                 0.01                    0-1

Prevocalic voicing              0.07                    0-6

Devoicingfinal                  0.02                    0-5

TABLE 4. Type and Frequency of African American English Phonological

                         Final consonant deletion

                      Nasals                Stops

Participant        m     n     [eta]      p    t    d    k    g

1          oc/op  0/1   0/2     0/2      3/6  4/6  1/1  1/3  1/2
             %     0     0       0        50   67  100   33   50

2          oc/op  2/2   1/1     1/1      3/3  3/5   --   --  3/4
             %    100   100     100      100   60   --   --   75

3          oc/op  2/2    --      --      2/5  6/12  --   --   1/1
             %    100    --      --       40   50   --   --   100

4          oc/op  1/7    --     0/5       --  11/14 1/1  1/1   -%
    14    --      0        --   79   100  100   -
5          oc/op   --    --      --       --   --   --   --    -%
    --    --      --       --   --   --   --    -
6          oc/op  0/6    0/3    0/2      0/2  3/15  1/1  1/1   2/2
             %     0      0      0        0     20  100  100   100

7          oc/op  1/6    3/5    0/1      0/4  10/21 0/2   0/2   -%
    17     60     0        0    48    0     0    -
8          oc/op   --    1/7    0/1      0/1  4/13  0/5   0/5  1/1
             %     --     14     0        0    31    0     0   100

                           Final consonant deletion

                       Fricatives                    Liquids

Participant         v     s      z     [integral]     l     r

1           oc/op   --   2/2    2/4       --         2/2   1/3
              %     --   100     50       --         100    33

2           oc/op   --    --    6/6       --         1/1   2/6
              %     --    --    100       --         100    33

3           oc/op   2/2  2/2    1/1       --          --   2/8
              %     100  100    100       --          --    25

4           oc/op   0/1  0/4    0/1       --          --   0/9
              %      0    0      0        --          --    0

5           oc/op   --    --    --        --          --   0/6
              %     --    --    --        --          --    0

6           oc/op   --   0/3    1/4       0/1         3/3  4/11
              %     --    0      25        0          100   36

7           oc/op   3/4  0/2    1/5       --          0/2   1/7
              %      75   0      20       --           0     14

8           oc/op   --   0/5    2/5       0/2         5/5   1/9
              %     --    0      40        0          100    1

                         Final consonant deletion


Participant            l      r

1            oc/op    0/2    6/13
               %       0       46

2            oc/op    1/1     2/6
               %      100      33

3            oc/op     --     2/9
               %       --      22

4            oc/op     --     2/12
               %       --      17

5            oc/op     --     5/10
               %       --      50

6            oc/op     0/3    2/19
               %        0      11

7            oc/op     0/2    1/9
               %        0      11

8            oc/op     0/5    1/9
               %        0      11

TABLE 5. Percentages of Word Shapes Demonstrated by Each Participant

                              Word shape

Participant     CV      CVC    Monosyllables    Closed syllables

1               43.4    24.5       77.4              34.8

2               30.4    23.2       78.6              41.1

3               30.7    25.0       73.9              42.0

4               49.2     8.5       81.4              20.3

5               25.8    30.3       76.4              52.8

6               30.6    29.0       75.8              43.5

7               46.3    20.4       88.9              31.5

8               30.2    31.7       84.1              47.6

Note. Percentages are total phonetic forms reported by the Interactive
Systems for Phonological Analysis (Masterson & Pagan, 1993) for each
language sample.
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Author:Bland-Stewart, Linda M.
Publication:Communication Disorders Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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