The Effects of Language Variation and Age on Measures of Narrative Microstructure



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The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between language variation, age and narrative microstructure in the spoken narratives of African American school-age children. While efforts to identify language-variety fair measures are underway (e.g., Mills et al., 2021; Mills et al., 2017; Mills & Fox, 2016), more work is needed to improve access to accurate language assessments for school-age African American children. Narrative microstructure offers insight into semantic and syntactic production, complexity and accuracy in a way that is culturally-fair in school-age children who speak AAE (Mills, 2015). We evaluated the fictional narratives of 49 African American children with typical language development, from ages 7-11 years. Frog Where Are You? (Mayer, 1969) and three narratives from the Test of Narrative Language (Gillam & Pearson, 2004). The transcripts of oral narratives provided by these participants were collected and analyzed in Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts (SALT; Miller & Iglesias, 2010), then uploaded to Computerized Language Analysis (CLAN; Ratner et al., 2019) for secondary analysis. A series of multiple regressions were used to analyze the data with age and dialect variation (DVAR) being the dependent variable and Developmental Sentence Scoring (DSS; Lee & Canter, 1971) and Index of Productive Syntax (IPSyn; Scarborough, 1990) being the independent variable. Findings indicated that age predicted DSS scores, as did language variation. Age, and language variation did not predict IPSyn scores. This study suggests that DSS does show promise as a measure that can provide information about development and age-related changes. However, DSS may not be an adequately dialect-neutral assessment. In addition, IPSyn appears to be a dialect neutral assessment but is insensitive to age differences.



DSS, I PSyn, narrative microstructure, African American English