Semin Speech Lang 2004; 25(1): 3-12
DOI: 10.1055/s-2004-824821
Copyright © 2004 by Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc., 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001, USA.

The Challenge of Language Assessment for African American English-Speaking Children: A Historical Perspective

Harry N. Seymour1
  • 1Professor Emeritus, Department of Communication Disorders, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts
Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
15 April 2004 (online)

The diagnostic problem of how validly to assess the language of children who speak dialects different from Mainstream American English (MAE) has challenged the field of communication disorders for several decades. The key to its solution is to recognize differences due to dialect or development and remove them from the initial diagnosis of a disorder. A new approach to the puzzle, implemented jointly by University of Massachusetts scholars and the Psychological Corporation (TPC), takes two directions: (1) it provides new normative data on African American English (AAE) development, and (2) it proposes a level of analysis deeper than dialect for the discovery of alternate markers of a disorder. We present three objectives for a language assessment instrument designed to solve this longstanding problem: (1) to answer the problem/no problem question for a given child; (2) to provide explanatory data about the nature of the problem; and (3) to achieve objectives 1 and 2 in a way that is culturally and linguistically fair to both speakers of MAE and speakers of other dialects of English such as AAE.


Harry N SeymourPh.D. 

Department of Communication Disorders, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Amherst, MA 01003