How Does Dialect Exposure Affect Literacy Acquisitions?

How Does Dialect Exposure Affect Literacy Acquisitions?

Some educators are worried that children’s exposure to local dialects such as Doric or Dundonian Scots may impair their literacy acquisition due to competition between lexical variants such as English ‘house’ vs. Scots ‘hoose’. However, empirical evidence to support such worries is scant. A few studies from children exposed to African American English suggest that there may be deleterious effects from dialect exposure but such studies are riddled with confounds related to differences in socio-economic status and educational opportunities that are hard to control. To provide a more stringent test of the hypothesis that competing lexical variants introduced by regular dialect exposure can hinder literacy acquisition we employed an artificial language learning paradigm using an invented script to teach participants to read and spell a set of nonwords. Crucially, in the Dialect Exposure condition, half of the training items were presented as a ‘dialect’ variant that differed from the ‘standard’ nonwords used for reading and spelling testing – mimicking a situation where children hear the dialect at home and use the standard language at school. Performance in this group was compared to a condition that did not include dialect variation. In a series of online experiments we failed to find deleterious effects, with some findings even pointing to a benefit from dialect exposure. I will discuss potential mechanisms that may account for these results.

Prof Vera Kempe
William Guild Building

Dr Chu

Carolyn Porter