Pragmatic Features in Original Narratives Written by African American Students at Three Grade Levels

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Abstract

African American English has a rich oral tradition, with identifiable features across all 5 systems of language—phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. This is an investigation of the extent to which pragmatic features of African American oral storytelling traditions are apparent in the written stories of African American students (n = 30) at fourth-, sixth-, and ninth-grade levels in an urban school district in the Midwest compared with stories written by 61 European American students in the same urban (n = 20) and a nearby rural school district (n = 41). Results showed that African American students use significantly more pragmatic features characteristic of the African American oral tradition than European American students. In particular, differences were found for the use of cultural references and parallelism. Grade level was significant for simple frequency counts of oral tradition features, but when the pragmatic codes were normalized for story length, the grade-level effect disappeared. These results add to prior research on cultural-linguistic influences on story writing that go beyond counts of morphosyntactic variation.

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