NIH Working Groups on African American English (AAE)

NIH Working Groups on African American English (AAE)

The Making of the DELV© (Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation)

In this archive is a sample of the output of the UMass National Institutes of Health (NIH) Working Groups on African American English (AAE) representing more than 20 years of research on AAE under Professor Harry Seymour of the Communication Disorders department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The research addresses a long-standing problem within the field of communication disorders—the absence of standardized tests appropriate for children whose language backgrounds are other than the mainstream variety of American English.

UMass earned pre-eminence in research on African-American English, bringing together the fields of communication disorders, linguistics, and psychology. The scope of the research built slowly from small individual and joint projects in the 1970s to what amounted to a program project in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 1993, Seymour, with collaborators Tom Roeper of UMass Linguistics and Jill and Peter de Villiers, Psychology at Smith College, received a 3-year NIH R01 grant to study speech and language patterns in African American children. Concurrent training grants from the Department of Education supported numerous graduate students, including a large contingent of students of color being preparing for leadership in working with minority children with communication disorders. The NIH grant was followed in 1998 by a multi-million dollar NIH contract to Seymour and his team that ran through 2005. In this phase, the research contract represents an unusual academic-industry partnership with a subcontract to The Psychological Corporation (TPC) of San Antonio TX, who helped carry out the nationwide standardization and published the tests. The project culminated in the publication of the Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation (DELV) Screening Test and Criterion Referenced tests (2003a, 2003b), followed by the DELV-Norm-referenced (2005) by Harcourt Assessments, the parent company of TPC, subsequently acquired by Pearson Assessments. In 2018, distribution rights were awarded to Ventris Learning, LLC of Sun Prairie WI. The DELV tests continue to be used as clinical and research tools.

This archive is compiled by Barbara Zurer Pearson, who joined the NIH team as Project Manager in 1998 and was recognized as a co-author in 2018.


Browse the NIH Working Groups on African American English (AAE) Collections:

Laying the groundwork for the DELV (Precursor literature, dissertations, joint work of the Working Groups prior to the conceptualization of the DELV)

The development phase: the preliminary Dialect-sensitive Language Test (DSLT)

Publication of the DELV tests and beyond

Extensions to the DELV by Other Authors

Summary Documents