LINGUIST List 9.1539

Tue Nov 3 1998

Sum: AAE & language acquisition

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. CRafal, Summary-AAE & lg acquisition

Message 1: Summary-AAE & lg acquisition

Date: Tue, 3 Nov 1998 16:11:31 -0500
From: CRafal <>
Subject: Summary-AAE & lg acquisition

Hello to all, 

A few weeks ago I posted an inquiry to the following effect: could
readers recommend research on language acquisition by children who are
coming up with African American English as their first language. From
the context of writing a licensure test for beginning teachers, I was
asking more specifically whether an item showing a child who used to
say "went" and now said "goed" made sense in general, as well as
whether it would be relevant for African American children.

I have received several thoughtful and helpful replies. I would like
to thank everyone who replied, listed in no particular order: Joel
Boyd, Christen M. Pearson, Lisa J. Greeen, Terry Potter, Laura
Wagner, Lynn Santelmann, Suzanne Kemmer (with attachment from Liz
Bates), Vern Lindblad, and Maaike Verrips. I have a feeling I have
forgotten someone, always a danger of listing. If so, my sincere

Research and references:

Currently at in the Department of Communications Disorders at University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, Harry Seymour ( and Tom
Roeper ( are working on issues related to the
acquisition of African American English. The ultimate goal of the project
is to develop diagnostics of language impairment that are sensitive to the
different languages children may be acquiring (e.g., SAE or AAE). 

Wyatt, T. (1995). Language development in African-American English child
speech. Linguistics and Education, 7(1), 7-22.

Things written by Shirley Brice Heath aimed at educators

Dr. William Labov

Bill Bryson's book, "The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way"
talks a little about second language acquisition in the second chapter

Alan G. Kamhi, Karen E. Pollock, & Joyce L. Harris (1996). Communication
Development and Disorders in African American Children: Research,
Assessment, and Intervention. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Web sites: (Here I cannot resist
saying this is a very good site, by an eminent and to me, dear,
professor whom I was lucky enough to have as my undergrad advisor. I
hope he is not embarrassed by the nave level of my query; what a
decade, a career change and other factors do to one's former
"expertise!" Not to mention how a field changes in that length of

On specific points: 
A couple respondents ventured that the development
or acquisition of the past tense did not differ significantly between
SE and AAE.

There was however some disagreement on whether saying "goed" for a
short time when one used to say "went" would really happen or
why. Some respondents provided anecdotal evidence of young
acquaintances who did do this. However, it seems that we would want to
avoid implying that "goed" actually replaced "went"; Liz Bates says
that these always co-exist, and 50% overgeneralization is the highest
observed. She said most children will use it only about 10% to 17% of
the time. She offered a different kind of anecdote: a child who never
started with the rote irregular form.

A few people offered explanations of these "errors" as children
hypothesizing about rules. Liz Bates suggested that there it may not
just be a question of "rote" vs. "rules" but that analogy may be at
work here, too. These differences seem to reflect the use of
different models of grammar whether as rule-based and algorithmic or
as schema-based and analogical.

This information has not only been helpful and thought provoking but
provided an enjoyable and refreshing foray back into that first
intellectual love of linguistics. Thank you all very much.

Christine T. Rafal
Research Associate
Education Development Center
Newton, MA

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