Language and the African American Child

“How does the language of developing African American English (AAE)-speaking children differ from that of their peers who are learning standard American English and other varieties of English? How does it differ from that of AAE-speaking adults in the same speech communities? Research on some topics in the study of the use AAE by adolescents and adults is well established; however, research on development and use of AAE by pre-school age children is limited. Language and the African American Child gives a linguistic description of patterns in the speech of developing AAE-speaking children who are growing up in small communities in the southern United States. As one of the few linguistic descriptions of child AAE, the book contributes to our understanding of developmental trends and systematic use of language in this population. Given reports in the literature on AAE from other regional areas, some data in the book can be generalized to children in other AAE-speaking communities. The data raise questions about general linguistic principles and patterns unique to child AAE as well as those shared by child language in general. The discussion helps to dispel the myth that AAE is simply a dialect consisting of features with negative settings that correspond to positive settings in standard American English, and all that is necessary is for children to switch the negative settings to positive in “formal” settings. At the very least, the view is stereotypically simplistic, and on a more serious note, it perpetuates the erroneous view that children growing up as native AAE speakers are not acquiring a complete grammar.

“Language and the African American Child brings together child AAE data from different sources, such as spontaneous speech samples and data from elicited constructions, and addresses them from the perspectives of general claims about development, inherent variation in AAE, and language use in AAE speech communities. Some of the data, such as that related to the link between syntactic and phonological structure in prosodic and intonational patterns in yes-no questions, for example, have never been addressed in the literature and provide interesting and important topics for further research. Given the recent emphasis on language use and academic success, the book also raises questions that should be taken into consideration in classroom instruction.”

Lisa Green

Lisa Green’s title Language and the African American Child published in December 2010 at £19.99. Click here to find out more and look inside the book.