Publication Date



Purpose: This study provides milestones for phonological development in African American English (AAE) speakers who are learning Mainstream American English (MAE) as a second dialect.

Method: The Dialect Sensitive Language Test (DSLT; H. Seymour, T. Roeper,&J.G. de Villiers, 2000) was administered to a nationwide sample of typically developing children ages 4 through 12: 537 speakers of AAE as a first dialect and 317 speakers of MAE as a first dialect. DSLT items tested all consonant segments and many clusters of MAE in initial and final position. The age at which each dialect group reached 90% criterion for each segment in each position was compared.

Results: Several phonetic elements that are contrastive between the dialects (i.e., differentiate the dialects) in word-final position were found to be similar in the 2 groups in word-initial position. Only /ð/ was contrastive in both positions. We confirm the later acquisition of certain phonological segments and structures by AAE speakers compared to MAE speakers and report their earlier mastery of other elements of MAE phonology.

Conclusion: Both segmental and phonotactic development show different trajectories for AAE and MAE. Thus, initial diagnosis of impairment for AAE children should focus only on mastery of noncontrastive segments and structures that share a similar developmental profile for the 2 dialect groups.

Journal or Book Title

Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools










To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.