One characteristic of African American vernacular English (AAVE) is final obstruent devoicing, where the final consonant of a word like
rigid is pronounced more like /t/ than /d/. To determine whether this dialect characteristic influences adults’ spelling, African American and White college students spelled words such as rigid and ballot, pronounced by either a speaker of their own dialect or a speaker of the other dialect. African Americans, especially those who often devoiced final /d/, were more likely than Whites to confuse d and t. Both African American and White spellers made more d/t confusions when the words were spoken by an African American experimenter than by a White experimenter. Thus, the different phonological systems of AAVE and White speakers can cause them to make different types of spelling errors. Discussions of AAVE and literacy have focused on its syntax, but its phonology must also be considered.
This research was supported by NSF Grants SBR-9408456, SBR-9807736, and BCS-0130763 and a grant from the College of Urban, Labor, and Metropolitan Affairs at Wayne State University.
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