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Towards the Identification of Cognitive Operations in Standard and Nonstandard English Usage

Freedle, Roy O.; Hall, William S.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Carnegie Corporation, Age Differences, Black Students, Cognitive Processes, Elementary School Students, English, Language Usage, Nonstandard Dialects, Racial Differences, White Students


Two experiments are reported which involve language imitation, comprehension, and free production at diglossic levels of English usage. Sentences in an imitation task were of two forms: standard English and so-called nonstandard English. 360 subjects were equally represented by race (Black and White), socioeconomic level (low SES and middle SES), three age groups (5, 8, and 10) and sex. The results indicated that Black children do better than White in responding to sentences given in nonstandard English while Whites do better than Blacks in responding to standard English sentences. This corroborates earlier research in the area. In addition significant SES and age effects were found for both race: sex contributed little to the significant effects. Rates of improvement over two age period indicated that Blacks are equal to Whites in their rate of improvement in responding to standard English. In addition, correlational results indicated that the two dialect systems function behaviorally as separate cognitive systems. A second experiment focused primarily upon language production in a communication task. In this task the Black and White children's free productions were similar inasmuch as neither was influenced by the social class or race of their listeners: in the listener side, the number of items correctly comprehended also did not vary across the race or SES variables. Thus this communication task represented one situation in which the races appear to perform equally well. Interrelationships across sentence imitation, comprehension, and production at diglossic leveles of English are also examined. (59pp.)

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