Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants

Title

The Relation Between Dialect Density & Executive Functioning in School-Age Speakers of African-American English

Department

Communication Sciences and Disorders

College

College of Health Professions

Disciplines

Medicine and Health Sciences

Abstract

Basic cognitive processes, including executive functions, have been identified as important influences on code-switching abilities. Aspects of EF, such as inhibition and cognitive flexibility, are reportedly facilitated by bilingualism, potentially resulting from the need to suppress/activate one language based on social context (Bialystok & Viswanathan, 2009). Studies of cognitive processes in bidialectal children are sparse and suggest a cognitive switch cost. Terry, Hendrick, Evangelou, and Smith (2010) found that mismatches between AAE and MAE weakened performance on mathematical reasoning tests, posing a cognitive load on working memory. There remains a need to fill the gap in understanding the cognitive mechanisms influencing code-switching in bidialectal speakers. The current study investigated the following research question: Is there a relation between executive functioning and code-switching in bidialectal (AAE/MAE) speakers? Thirty African American children completed formulated sentences and recalling sentences subtests of the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals Fourth Edition (CELF; Semel, Wiig, & Secord, 2003). Responses for these subtests were transcribed and coded for morphosyntactic features of African American English (AAE). Dialect density (DDM) was computed by dividing the number of AAE features by the total number of words produced by the child for each subtest. Given that the recalling sentences subtest required the repetition of a sentence presented in MAE, it was expected that children would produce fewer AAE features on this subtest than on the formulated sentences subtest, which only gave the children one word to use in a sentence. Thus, the formulated sentences subtest served as a baseline measure of spoken AAE. Code-switching was computed by subtracting the DDM for recalling sentences (DDM_RS) from the DDM for formulated sentences (DDM_FS). N-back, local-global, flanker, and Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) computerized tasks measured EF. DDM for both the formulated sentences and recalling sentences subtests of the CELF-4 were not significantly correlated with EF measures, nor was the difference between the two, suggesting that within language code-switching does not present the same cognitive load as between language code-switching. Tasks were administered by a speaker of MAE, which may have facilitated code-switching. However, it is possible that DDMs computed for both subtests simply reflect baseline use of AAE. Future investigations using larger samples, multiple tasks, and examiners of multiple linguistic backgrounds are needed to further the understanding of the cognitive mechanisms underlying code-switching.

Conference Name

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Annual Convention

Conference Location

Orlando, FL

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