Treating Child Language Disorders:
Lessons from African American English
Presenters
Harry N. Seymour
Thomas Roeper
Jill deVilliers
Peter deVilliers
*supported by NIH grant N01-DC-8-2104
*webpage:www.umass.edu/aae
Clinical Problem
 Standardized tests for children who
speak African American English
 The deficit/difference dilemma
 Too Many African American children fail
Clinical Solution
 Make the tests harder

Avoid somewhat superficial aspects of
language
 Contrasts

between dialects
Focus on deep principles of language
every child should know
 Noncontrastive
elements between dialects
Dialect Sensitive Language
Test (DSLT)
 Becomes
Diagnostic Evaluation
of Language Variation
(DELV)
Diagnostic Evaluation of
Language Variation (DELV)
 Variation in speech and language development
 Variation in speech and language disorders
 Variation in speech and language dialects
Collaborators
Peggy Speas
Angelika Kratzer
Barbara Pearson Eliane Ramos
Lisa Green
Lamya Abdulkarim
Toya Wyatt
Bart Hollebrandse
Mike Dickey
Linda Bland
Mike Terry
Tempe Champion
Janice Jackson Laura Wagner
D’Jaris Coles
Robin Schafer
Valerie Johnson Kristen Asplin
Tim Bryant
Frances Burns
The Psychological Corporation
Christina Foreman
Lisa Selkirk
Shelley Velleman
Fred Hall
Debra Garrett
Minjoo Kim
Ida Stockman
Deanna Moore
Joe Pater
Caroline Jones
Uri Strauss
The DELV Process
 DELV-Screening Test


Identifies language variation status
Identifies students at risk for a disorder
 DELV-Criterion Referenced Test

Diagnose speech and language disorders

Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatic, Phonology
Screener Morphosyntax
Identifier Items
 Have/has (“The girl have (has) a big kite”)
 3rd person present tense ‘s (“The girl
always sleep(s).”)
 Doesn’t/don’t (“This boy don’t (doesn’t)
like to swim.”)
 Be copula forms (They was (were) sick”)
Screener Phonology
Identifier Items
 Substitution f/th: bath --->baf
 Substitution v/th: breathe --->breav or bread
 Zero Cluster Element: gift--->gif
Language Variation Status
 Mainstream American English (MAE)
 Some Variation from MAE
 Strong Variation from Mae
Screener Diagnostic Items
 Past tense was/were auxiliary and copula
forms (obligatory in both MAE and AAE).
 Possessive pronoun plurals (obligatory in
both MAE and AAE).
 Non-word Repetition
 Wh-Question Comprehension
Evidence from SLI
 Difficulty with morphosyntax
 Difficulty with variables and embedded
clauses
 Difficulty repeating nonsense words
Diagnostic Risk Status
 Lowest risk for a disorder--no follow-up
 Low to medium risk for a disorderClinician discretion
 Medium to high risk for a disorder-DELV
recommended
 Highest risk for disorder--DELV
recommended
DELV-Criterion Referenced
Test
Phonology
Syntax
Pragmatics
Semantics
DELV Phonology
 Identifies phonologically impaired children
 Neutralizes the effects of dialect differences
 Provides age appropriate cut-off scores
Phonology Structure
25 target phonemic Clusters
 Cluster targets only--two and three
elements
 Initial and medial positions of words only
 Phonotactic Properties

Copyrighted Picture Omitted
Phon Examples 2
DELV Syntax
Wh-Questions
 Passive
 Articles

DELV Pragmatics
Communication Role-taking
 Short Narrative
 Question Asking

DELV Semantics
Verb Contrasts
 Preposition Contrasts
 Quantifiers
 Fast Mapping -Real Verbs
 Fast Mapping -Novel Verbs

Clinical Parity
 DELV is a linguistically and culturally
fair test
 It works as well for African American
children as it does for White children.
It distinguishes typically developing
students from disordered.
 This is achieved despite dialect differences

Misdiagnosis
Over-representation
 14.8 % of general population
 20.2% of special education
Under-representation
 Unclear
S
pe
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sa
is
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A
D
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at
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La
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d
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Le
ec
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da
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et
P
lR
ta
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D
M
G
m
African American Children in
Special Education
%
0.4
0.35
0.3
0.25
0.2
%
0.15
0.1
0.05
0
Misdiagnosed Cases
 Child A (11093)
 5 years old
 Black female
 Parents w/HS educ
 Strong diff from
MAE
 Lang Disorder
Child B (18678)
5 year old
Black male
Parents w/HS educ
Strong diff from
MAE
Lang disorder
Conclusions
 We have shown that a comprehensive assessment of
children’s language development between the ages of 4 and
8 can be carried out in a dialect neutral fashion.
 These materials and procedures capture the development of
several aspects of language that are vital for success in early
schooling and the transition to literacy.
 They provide the clinician with a substantial profile of the
child language strengths and weaknesses, not just a
diagnostic categorization.
 As such they provide a much richer evaluation of language
variation and its sources that has direct implications for
areas and methods of intervention.
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