Consonant cluster productions in preschool children who speak African American English

Toby Macrae, University of Canterbury, New Zealand (
Rachel Hoge, Florida State University, USA (
Kelly Farquharson, Florida State University, USA (
Chessa Goodman, Florida State University, USA (
Falyn Marks, Florida State University, USA (
Kara Smith, Florida State University, USA (
Hannah White, Macquarie University, Australia (

Background: There is a history of misdiagnosing speech sound disorders (SSDs) in children who speak African American English (AAE). Differential diagnosis requires a complete understanding of the features of the dialect. Unfortunately, much less is known about the features of AAE than Mainstream American English (MAE). One particular area in which data are lacking is consonant cluster productions.

Aim: The aim of this study was to provide a comprehensive description of consonant cluster productions in a group of children who speak AAE at an age when these productions are typically being mastered.

Method: Twenty-three African American children (9 males, 13 females), aged 2;10 to 5;4 (mean = 3;11), completed an experimenter-developed single-word cluster task.

Results: The majority of cluster reductions adhered to markedness theory (deletion of the marked member) and the sonority hypothesis (deletion of the most sonorous member in word-initial clusters, deletion of the least sonorous member in word-final clusters).The majority of word-final cluster reductions adhered to the voicing generalisation seen in AAE-speaking adults (deletion of the stop from consonant + stop clusters with the same voicing).The vast majority of cluster simplifications were not predictable based on the corresponding consonant singleton mismatches.

Conclusions: Some aspects of AAE-speaking children’s cluster productions are similar to MAE-speaking children, while others are different.Speech-language therapists should consider dialect-specific information when making diagnostic decisions about children who speak AAE.

Implications for children: You will not be labelled as “disordered” just because you speak differently to other children.

Implications for families: The results of this study will improve our understanding of the features of your child’s dialect and help prevent the overdiagnosis of SSDs in African American children.

Implications for practitioners: This study will provide you with more information with which to make diagnostic decisions about children who speak AAE.

Funding: This study was funded, in part, by a U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs personnel preparation grant (H325K130304).

Key words: African American English, children’s voices, wellbeing, communication, vulnerable communities, international communities, quantitative methods

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: