Does speaker race affect the assessment of children’s speech accuracy? A comparison of speech-language pathologists and clinically untrained listeners

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Abstract

Purpose: Some pronunciation patterns that are normal in 1 dialect might represent an error in another dialect (i.e., [koʊl] for cold, which is typical in African American English [AAE] but an error in many other dialects of English). This study examined whether trained speech-language pathologists and untrained listeners accommodate for presumed speaker dialect when rating children’s productions of words. This study also explored whether effects of presumed race on perceived speech accuracy are mediated by individuals’ knowledge and beliefs about AAE and their implicit attitudes about race. Method: Multiple groups of listeners rated the accuracy of a set of children’s productions of words that have a distinct pronunciation in AAE. These were presented in 1 of 3 conditions: paired with no visual stimulus (to assess baseline accuracy) or paired with either African American children’s faces (to suggest that the speaker uses AAE) or European American children’s faces (to suggest that the speaker does not use AAE). Listeners also completed a set of measures of knowledge and attitudes about AAE and race, taken from previous studies. Results: Individuals in both groups rated children’s productions more accurately when they were presented with African American children’s faces than when paired with European American faces. The magnitude of this effect was generally similar across the 2 groups and was generally strongest for words that had been judged in the baseline condition to contain an error. None of the individual-differences measures predicted ratings. Conclusions: Assumptions about speaker attributes affect individuals’ assessment of children’s production accuracy. These effects are robust across trained and untrained listeners and cannot be predicted by existing measures of knowledge and attitudes about AAE and race.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)906-921
Number of pages16
JournalLanguage, speech, and hearing services in schools
Volume49
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery Seed grant to Mark Seidenberg; by National Science Foundation Grant BCS0729140 to Jan Edwards; by National Institutes of Health Grant R01 DC02932 to Jan Edwards, Mary E. Beckman, and Benjamin Munson; and by National Institute of Child Health & Human Development Grant P30 HD03352 to the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin. Portions of this work were conducted as part of the first author’s 2012 master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. The authors thank Mark DeRuiter for his input on that document. The authors are very grateful to all of the adult participants and to the children who contributed the speech samples and their families. The authors also thank Mary E. Beckman for useful input on this work, Nicole Breunig who did the original transcriptions of the stimuli, both Hannah Julien and Veera Vasandani for comments on this article, and both Mandi Proue and Carol-June Leonard for valuable assistance in participant recruitment and testing.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

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