When It Comes to Explaining: A Preliminary Investigation of the Expository Language Skills of African American School-Age Children

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Abstract

This research investigated the expository language of school-age speakers of African American English. Specifically, the study describes the language productivity, syntax, and pragmatic features present in expository language samples produced by African American children and compares their performance with White children in the extant literature. The study also explores relationships between the various language measures. Twenty-one children, aged 8 years 2 months to 9 years 11 months, produced expository language samples using the favorite game or sport elicitation task. The samples were transcribed, coded, and analyzed for the total number of T-units, mean length of T-unit, clausal density, topic maintenance, informativeness, and fluency. The children in the study produced expository discourse that was commensurate with their White peers in the research literature in the areas of language productivity and syntactic complexity. Unique to this study was the analysis of pragmatic aspects of expository discourse. The African American children in the study displayed good ability to produce on-topic and fluent language samples, whereas their explanations revealed emerging skills in the area of informativeness. Syntactic measures were strongly correlated with each other, and the pragmatic measures of topic maintenance and informativeness were correlated with each other; however, no relationship was found between the syntactic and pragmatic measures. The findings suggest that typically developing African American children who are also speakers of African American English perform similarly to their peers on several measures of expository discourse competence and that the evaluation of expository language may serve as a valuable tool in assessing the language skills of this population of children.

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