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Download PDF: Burns et al. (2012)

This study investigated the usefulness of specific narrative elements determined to be “dialect neutral” in discriminating between typically developing and language impaired speakers, regardless of dialect status (General American English vs. African American English).

Source URL: Dialect Neutral Indices of Narrative Cohesion and Evaluation 

Background: Traditional narrative analysis, as part of a speech and language evaluation, tended to focus on macrostructures such as story grammar and plot structure.  However, research has demonstrated that this can vary across cultures, languages and dialects. As a result, this traditional approach was not valid for children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) populations and resulted in these children being misidentified as having a language impairment. This study proposed to fill in this gap by identifying narrative analysis procedures appropriate for CLD children.

Hypothesis: Previous research had suggested narrative microstructures as valid for analysis in CLD children. The authors identified four narrative microstructures that might differentiate language impaired (LI) from typically developing (TD) children without misidentifying dialect speakers. These included: 1) reference contrasting 2) temporal expression 3) mental state description and 4) understanding a behavior based on a false belief.

Methodology and Participants: The study included 529 participants, ages 4 to 9, with roughly equal numbers of General American English (GAE) and African American English (AAE) speaking children, both language impaired (LI) and typically developing (TD). The task, taken from the Dialect Sensitive Language Test (DSLT) asked children to generate two stories based on short picture sequences, which were then followed up by probing questions from the evaluator. These generated narratives were then analyzed to form a composite score from the four narrative microstructures.

Conclusion:  Most importantly, the researchers found that this composite score was able to differentiate LI children from TD children, regardless of their dialect status, indicating the test was valid and culturally appropriate for CLD children. Authors also noticed a developmental progression in narrative skills elicited, providing evidence for the task’s usefulness across the age range tested.

Relevance to the field: The current study contributes to the increasing number of evidenced based practices for evaluating the speech and language skills of CLD children. Since standardized tests are biased toward children with dialectical differences, it is important that the field of speech and language pathology continue to pursue research that improves our practice and expands this knowledge base. As noted by the authors, the assessment based on this task was able to be completed in a relatively short period of time allowing for its application in a variety of settings.



Burns, F. A., de Villiers, P. A., Pearson, B. Z., & Champion, T. B. (2012). Dialect-neutral indices of narrative cohesion and evaluation. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 43, 132-152.