A study of oral language comprehension of black and white, middle and lower class, preschool children using standard English and black dialect in Houston, Texas, 1972



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Purpose and Procedure This study compared the oral language comprehension of standard English with the oral language comprehension of black dialect in a cross sectional sample of eighty preschool children living in the Houston area. The subjects were randomly selected from four categories: low and middle socio-economic white and low and middle socio-economic black, and were equally divided by age (four and five year olds), and sex. The Carrow Test for Auditory Language Comprehension was translated into local black dialect. Both the standard english and black dialect test versions were administered on tape to each child by two white and two black testers who tested across subject categories. Data was analyzed by a three way analysis of variance with repeated measures on one factor. Each test version was checked for reliability by the Kuder-Richardson technique and for normality of distribution and homogeneity of variance by Bartlett's test. Additional analyses were made on subjects' socio-economic class, age and sex, as well as on group response patterns by grammatical categories within the testing instrument. Results and Conclusions Principal findings. The young children tested comprehended standard English and black dialect at different levels. Only three of the eighty subjects understood the two language versions equally well. There were significant differences in the levels of oral language comprehension in both standard English and black dialect when the subjects were grouped by socio-economic class, but no significant differences when language comprehension was compared by race. This indicated that social class was the major determining factor in the young child's ability to comprehend language structure. Race, apart from class did not effect the level of performance. The combination of black dialect and standard English comprehension scores for all black subjects was identical to the combination of black dialect and standard English scores for all white subjects. This study suggested that age was a significant factor in the oral language comprehension level of most subjects in both standard English and black dialect. When four year olds comprehended the structure of their native language well, the five year olds in the same sample comprehended the structure of a second dialect well. At the same time, in low SES groups where four year old subjects performed at a lower level on both tests, there was moderate to no increase in the scores of five year olds. An examination of subject scores by sex indicated an atypical finding in that the mean scores of the boys, in most cases, were higher than the mean scores of the girls. Various oral language comprehension patterns existed within the SES groups of children tested. Though performing at different levels, the middle SES black and the low SES white children were the most bi-dialectal in their comprehension. Middle SES white children comprehended standard English at a much higher level than they comprehended black dialect. Low SES black children were inconsistent in their facility to comprehend structural items within black dialect and standard English. Dialect barriers to comprehension do exist for the young child in learning centers where the language of the teacher and that written in the materials differs from the language spoken by the child. The type and degree of dialect interference depend upon the structural similarities of the dialects in contact and the subjects' adeptness in bi-dialectal comprehension.



Children with social disabilities--Education--Language arts., Children--Language., African American children--Language.