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0:00:11 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See Hear Speak Podcast Episode 32. In this Episode I speak with Janna Oetting about how to identify developmental language disorder within the context of a child’s dialect, with an eye towards clinical and educational implications.
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0:00:56 TH: Welcome to SeeHearSpeak Podcast, Episode 32. Today I have Janna Oetting, and I'll start by having you introduce yourself, Janna.
0:01:07 Janna Oetting: Hi, Tiffany. Thanks for having me on. My name is Janna Oetting, I'm a professor, sciences and disorders at Louisiana State University, and I'm the Director of the D4 Child Language Lab. And the four Ds stand for child language development, disorders, dialects, and disparities. And the disparities we're hoping to reduce are in health and education. I'm also a wife and a mother of two college-age students who are really helping me become a better college professor. Definitely better in the classroom. They have been critiquing my materials since March.
0:01:47 TH: I'm sure.
0:01:50 JO: Oh, and I'm a new grandmother to a puppy. A Beyou Shep that my son just... He's now a proud owner.
0:02:00 TH: Wow.
0:02:01 JO: So yeah, I have to add that to my identity.
0:02:03 TH: Oh, my goodness. Now is this puppy potty trained? That's the big question.
0:02:08 JO: Well, I went to actually help him. He just graduated and started a new job, so I went and he had one accident on my watch. None on my son's but I had him during the hard hours.
0:02:23 TH: That's the hardest thing is when they're puppies, not even house trained. You're like, "Okay, this is... " I'm currently potty training my three-year-old and it's not fun to do. At first when it was pandemic, I thought this is a great time to potty train him. And let's see how long we've been in the pandemic now and he's not really down with it, so...
0:02:43 JO: Yeah. Well, good luck.
0:02:44 TH: It's the hard part, human or animal.
0:02:47 JO: Yeah, I was kinda happy that the grandmother role, you get to leave. And so I was kinda happy after the five days went by.
0:02:55 TH: I'm missing my amazing daycare providers so much but especially so with the potty training help because they're like the potty training experts and now even though he's my third, I'm like, "How did I do this before? Oh yeah, I didn't do it all before," so...
0:03:10 JO: They did it, yeah.
0:03:11 TH: Oh goodness, it's great.
0:03:12 JO: Good luck.
0:03:13 TH: I'm glad you made time and amongst all those duties to come on here, and I'll just get started by jumping in with my first question. So, you have a framework in which you're thinking about language disorders within a model of difference. And I was wanting you to tell us about how this is different than the model of dialect versus disorder that we hear about often in the literature and in the ASHA media report.
0:03:41 JO: Yeah. Definitely in the 1980s and since then, the American Speech Language Hearing Association has really advocated for a dialect versus difference phrase. The intent is wonderful. It's to help clinicians understand that disorders and dialects are not the same thing, and to help us not misidentify a child who's typically developing but speaks a dialect that's different than general American English as an impairment. And so we tried to use this. 30 years ago when I came to Louisiana, I tried it. And the first thing that happened is I had to throw away all these beautiful pieces of language, in particular the verb phrase, because so much of it shows variation across dialects. The other thing about it that was hard for me is it just went against my training at the University of Kansas in the child language program. In the '90s when I was training, Larry Leonard was doing cross-linguistic studies of DLD. He was studying child language impairment in not only English but I can't even remember his... He studied so many languages, Italian, Spanish, Dutch. And Mabel Rice, my mentor, was starting to do the same thing in Canada with French.
0:04:59 JO: And so I grew up in a PhD program that was about: How do children learn language? How does DLD manifest in a language? And it wasn't English, it was called human language. And so quickly, I abandoned that dialect versus disorder phrase to move it to be something that was much more cross-linguistic to be, "Okay, how does DLD manifest in different dialects of English that I am hearing in Louisiana?" It's no different than the speech pathologist who says, "How does DLD manifest in two-year-olds? How does it manifest in six-year-olds? How does it manifest in a 10-year-old?" It's that same speech pathology question which I'm very comfortable with because we're experts of disorders, and our job is to figure out how that disorder manifests and then how to treat that disorder. But do you want any more on that topic?
0:06:03 TH: Yeah. I was thinking maybe what we could do is think about the specific different dialects you've studied cause I know there are many. But you in particular have really researched a bit about African-American English and Southern White English. Maybe you could describe those dialects and describe how your labs approach categorizing their dialects in relation to general American English and is that the case? Do you do it in relation to general American English?
0:06:32 JO: So dialects are... I might be going a little backwards for you but dialects are products of healthy, typical development. It's because humans are creative beings and humans that live together, identify with each other and share cultural norms sound and use language in a similar way. So, all languages have dialects, all countries have dialects, all states have dialects. Disorders reflect a less efficient system in a typical system and we think it's tied to neurobiology even though we don't quite understand it, and we think it has a genetic component even though we don't quite understand that genetic component. There's enough evidence to say there's something neurobiological and there's something genetic.
0:07:21 JO: DLD is a low incidence, so estimates can be somewhere between 7 and 12%, we might go up to 15% in low income communities. There's a real big difference between disorder versus dialect. So when you use the phrase dialect versus disorder, you oftentimes hear speech pathologists explain it as, "Well if everyone in the classroom does it, it's a dialect difference." If only a small group of children do it and they're your weak learners, then that's the disorder." And so those are the kids, we're gonna look for things that the kids do that the other kids don't do.
0:08:01 JO: That's difficult because across languages, children with DLD do everything the typical kid does. They just do it less efficiently. And if they make something that's a dialect inappropriate error, they just do it maybe for a longer period. So, they do it at a slightly older age and they might do it more frequently. But there is nothing that a DLD child does or child with DLD does that a typically developing child or especially a younger typically developing child doesn't do.
0:08:33 JO: And so the disorder within dialect approach, you don't have to have things that only the children with DLD do. You're asking, "Okay. In this classroom where everyone is speaking a particular community dialect which is efficient with their linguistic system." And so that's really why we use a dialect, a disorder versus... A disorder within dialect approach.
0:09:04 TH: I think...
0:09:05 JO: Now can you ask that question about...
0:09:07 TH: Yes. And I think that's really helpful, Janna, because the listeners are a broad audience, and many are SLPs but some are educators and administrators and parents. And so I do think it's important to think about it. And I've had people who listen to the podcast asked me where I'm from based on my dialect. And they'll say, "I just can't put my finger on it." But I'm from a Midwestern I guess dialect, more middle Missouri dialect, so I have a bit of a southern Midwestern. And I remember as an undergraduate speech pathology major wondering what was the "typical".
0:09:44 TH: What is that? And I remember hearing, "Oh, I think that's Ohio." People would say different things, "Oh, that's Ohio. And there were certain areas, there was a tiny pocket and I was like, "If there's a tiny pocket, we're all supposed to aspire to that?" Or you hear the broadcast dialects is a big one. You talk about it and of course, there've been amazing documentaries on dialect and we can even put some of those in the resources, there's some great resources.
0:10:06 JO: Oh, well... And there's a new one on dialect in sign language.
0:10:11 TH: Oh, wow.
0:10:12 JO: That … just done. Yeah, it's fabulous.
0:10:13 TH: Well, that's great. So, we can definitely turn our listeners on to more information. And you can fall down a rabbit hole with dialect. I think it's fascinating.
0:10:20 JO: Yeah. Yeah. I think Walt Wolfram has 28 different dialects in his book, Delany has a real simple map that you can get that has 24. And then linguists come up with many more maps with many more dialects. And so the United States and globally, we have lots of dialects. And SLPs can and are identifying DLD and treating DLD within the context of these. We just have to get better at knowing what are we doing and articulating.
0:10:56 TH: And so what are the dialects that you've mainly studied? I believe it's African American English and Southern White English, is that correct?
0:11:03 JO: Yeah. So in Louisiana, which I moved to 30 years ago, it's one of the nine States that's considered the Deep South. The Deep South has... Some people refer to it as 15 states but either way, Louisiana's in it. We have some of the highest levels of poverty, the lowest levels of education and measures of wellness. Our public schools in Baton Rouge are over 50% African American and 27% of our children live in rural areas.
0:11:33 JO: So it was really natural for me to... When I moved to Louisiana and I wanted to study DLD, to move and make my research a rural area where I could hear both rural African American English and Southern White English being spoken in the same schools and in the same communities. That that was easier for me to do than to, let's say, work in Baton Rouge where I might have urban African American English but I don't necessarily have the counterpart of an urban non-mainstream Southern White English. So, we spent a lot of time in rural Louisiana, 60 to 90 minutes away, but I've been super fortunate in that I've just had amazing PhD students who have come to Louisiana to study. And so Brandi Newkirk-Turner, she had been a student of Ida Stockman and Dr. Stockman had a rich, rich data set from Michigan. So, Brandy's dissertation was done on children who spoke AAE in Michigan.
0:12:35 JO: Jessica Richardson Berry came from South Carolina and she's a Gullah Geechee speaker. And so she came and she was able to learn what we were doing in rural Louisiana, and then her dissertation was on rural children who are African-American, who have a heritage of Gullah Geechee. And then finally, Andy Revere who's a native speaker of Cajun French, grew up in Louisiana and he was able to take stuff, skills he learned in the lab and apply it to children who were Southern White English rural dialect speakers but had a Cajun history or ancestry. So, it's been super exciting, I'm so lucky. But just amazing students have come.
0:13:23 TH: And it sounds like you've had the benefit of having those that have a lot of insight into the language and have that approach of really studying it in the linguistic form thinking very deeply of this.
0:13:34 JO: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, everyone who works in the lab has a better language system than I do. I'm monolingual, mono dialectal. I'm the weak link and so I just... It's been amazing to be able to... Right now, my two PhD students are bilingual. One is a bilingual SLP in our public schools and another one is multilingual in both languages and dialects. So it's just really exciting.
0:14:03 TH: Amazing. How do you think about in your lab and in your approach to studying these dialects, how do you characterize them in relation to general American English?
0:14:12 JO: Well, one of the things I try not to do is think about general American English. I really love Lisa Green's work where she talks about African American English as a system, and every social linguist or linguist that I know would refer to any dialect as a linguistic system. So I try to, when I'm studying dialect, study the dialect as a system for what it is. And I can't speak highly enough of Lisa Green's work for really helping us understand African American English. But we use three methods. When we go into a school, children don't have a lanyard that says "I speak African-American English" or, "I speak Southern White English." And they're in contact with each other, so it could easily be the case that somebody whose parent's self-report is White, speaks African American English and vice versa. In fact, we had a student in our French department come back to LSU to study Cajun French, and what she learned through her dissertation is that her family really spoke Creole French.
0:15:15 JO: So, the boundaries between some dialects can be more fuzzy than others. But we use three methods, and multiple people have showed that these methods correlate with each other. Ramonda Horton-Ikard is someone who's done that, we've done that in our lab. But the three methods are listener judgment, and that's a blind listener judgment where three people independently listen to one minute of conversational speech and they fill out a rating form to say when are they perceiving this child. The second one is we'll use the DELV screening test. The first subtest of that quantifies how many responses are non-mainstream. And so you can take that number and divide it by the number of total utterances to get a percentage of non-mainstream use. It doesn't tell you what dialect the child's speaking, but it tells you how far that child is from what might be considered general American English.
0:16:16 JO: And then the third method would be a language sample analysis which we like to have at least 200 complete intelligible child utterances. We like to spend three or four hours transcribing them. We have three people that transcribe a sample. We have the second team do reliability. That's my favorite way because you really can see the patterns and just a very large inventory and creative use of language. But that takes time. And so those first two methods are very quick and easy to do. Listener judgment still, I'll probably never do a study without that. I love the DELV but you can... If you're five, you can produce up to six or seven utterances as non-mainstream and be considered a mainstream speaker. You can also be a general American English speaker with DLD.
0:17:08 TH: Right.
0:17:09 JO: And because you zero-mark third person or verbal-less because of your DLD grammatical weaknesses, you can administer the DELV to them and they will come out as some variation even though your ears are telling you that this is general American English. So, I really like all three methods, I think it tells us something. People sometimes ask me, "Why are there always kids in your study that don't have a lot of non-mainstream forms?" And my response is always, "Well, that's how communities work. Dialects are not monolithic. We all have our own idiolect and there's individual differences." And Julie Washington and Holly Craig showed us that in 1994, a long time ago, that they went into some Head Starts and showed that they had low, medium and high users of those non-mainstream forms. Back when I started, I thought I would throw out the kids who had very low uses. Thank goodness, I didn't. Because I've now come to realize that individual differences is part of communities.
0:18:17 JO: And then with the three methods, usually if somebody shows... Let's say they have what I would consider a non-prototypical use of AAE in that one minute. So, three people will hear it and say, "That sounds like Southern White English." Then we'll give them the DELV or we'll look at the language sample and there's plenty of evidence in those two pieces that the speaker is an African American English speaker, we just didn't happen to capture it in that one minute. And so yeah, there's prototypical and non-prototypical speakers when you pull out a one-minute clip. So that's my answer in that those three methods give you a rich understanding. In 20 years, it might not be like that. In 20 years, these dialects may be closer related or they might be farther apart. And that's something else that we can document across time.
0:19:11 TH: Is that affected by whether people are transient or maybe socio-economic opportunities? What...
0:19:21 JO: I think all those factors do affect dialects, but dialects are always... Language is always evolving.
0:19:28 TH: Yes.
0:19:29 JO: And so the rural areas that I work in pre-Katrina and post-Katrina had very little movement. I think we were like 3% or 4%. So, we don't have a lot of movement in those particular schools. But we're humans and we're creative, so we're gonna change our language just because of who we are. So, we definitely have had... Going to the same schools for 30 years, we've seen... It's not the case that something new has popped up. It's more the case that some things are a little bit more frequent than they were before.
0:20:03 TH: But it also highlights how you can't get stagnant in terms of just saying, "Well, I'm gonna use this method or I'm gonna use this criteria and whatnot." But you gotta kinda stay up on the research and what's out there, what's happening. Cause you've used different approaches to think about DLD within that dialect, like different cut points. Can you tell us a little bit about that, what you found to be the most sensitive?
0:20:28 JO: To find identifying DLD?
0:20:30 TH: Mm-hmm.
0:20:32 JO: Well, I'm always going to say the more data you have, the better. And we're very new. We haven't been studying DLD in African American English or Southern White English near as long as we've been studying it in general American English. But some of the same markers that are cutting across languages, we're finding are appropriate for identifying DLD. Our best probe so far has been our sentence recall task. And that task was very strategic in that it went from simple sentences to more complex sentences, manipulating tense, tense and agreement forms, and it has shown our best sensitivity and specificity or diagnostic accuracy.
0:21:18 JO: The other thing we really liked about it is our... Children with DLD, when they would not recall something, they wouldn't recall part of their tense and agreement system. The typically developing children who were AAE or SWE speakers, they could use their grammar as a foundation to help them recall. And that seems very consistent, right? With learning how to read or learning how to write. If you have a good grammar system, you can rely on that system to help you get through the sentence whether you're reading or you're writing. So, I love that probe. I also am pretty pleased with our grammar productivity probes, especially our past tense probe. So past tense as a form, regular past tense and irregular past tense that all dialects have, we vary in how we produce past but... Talking about the past. And children with DLD struggle with sharing stories and telling individuals about what has happened. And so it also has been of our grammar probes, the one with the highest sensitivity and the specificity.
0:22:32 JO: And I think clinically, being able to talk about a past event is really important. Now remember, it's in AAE and SWE, so we're not saying you have to be able to talk about the past using general American English, it's... Can you talk about the past in your dialect? And that's where we see the typically developing kids just doing a much better job, having more forms, having more productivity than our children with DLD.
0:23:01 TH: So in your approach, just to be clear to the listeners, the dialect has its own rules, its own kind of variation. And general American English is not used as the touchstone necessarily, it's its own dialect as well. Is that correct, the way we put it?
0:23:17 JO: Right. Absolutely, absolutely. And Megan-Brette Hamilton, she's at Auburn, she just wrote a wonderful article in the ASHA Leader in the beginning of this year on using, avoiding deficit language when talking about African American English. And that's something that I was so happy she wrote it. You know how sometimes people write things and it's like, "Oh, you wrote exactly what I've been trying to articulate, and I couldn't come up with the words."
0:23:44 TH: Yeah.
0:23:45 JO: And so we have made some changes in the lab over the last 30 years but her article really helped us become aware of why we make it. So 30 years ago when we were doing a language sample, we would put in a little code that was like an error code. And then we would go through all the errors and categorize them as, "Oh no, that sounds like it's appropriate for African-American English or Southern White English," or, "Oh, that's a behavior that I've never seen in any literature, so it's clearly the child made a linguistic error." Well, at least 10 years ago. I'm trying to think. I think it was when Sonia Prue was a PhD student. We changed that and said, "Why are we calling it an error? We don't know what it is." So, we changed that and now it's a flag. There's never... In fact, we hardly ever use the word error for anything. We talk about something being dialect appropriate or being dialect inappropriate or being task appropriate. This test wanted this response and the child didn't give the response, the targeted response. There's really no place for the word error. We don't need that.
0:24:59 TH: It's just so important, Janna. And as we know studying language, words matter. And saying the word error, even if you categorize it differently later, it means something, it has a negative connotation. So, it's really I think so important as you said, to avoid that, the deficit discussion in relation to dialects compared to "General American English", right? It's like shouldn't be compared to. It's its own dialect, it has its own rules and if you have a flag that... I just love that approach, I think it makes a lot of sense.
0:25:31 JO: Oh. Another word that we really try to avoid is omission because we prefer the more linguistic neutral or the linguistic universal term or zero form. All languages have zero forms, General American English has zero forms. Think of the plural of sheep, it's sheep. The past tense of cut, it's cut. All languages have zero marked forms and it's a linguistic term that doesn't carry any negative connotation, and the definition of a zero form is it just doesn't have phonetic content. It does not mean that it's an omission. There are plenty of cases that we know something's there because when we invert it perhaps as a declarative into a question, there's something there that forces the question to be constructed the way it is or sometimes when we make elliptical responses. So a zero marked form is a much more neutral term. We don't have to use the word omission because it's not the case that these dialects are omitting anything.
0:26:40 JO: African American English and Southern White English allows zero forms. They're not defined by their zero forms, so these dialects also have overt forms. They have overt forms that they share with other dialects, but they also have dialect-specific overt forms like ain't, like the habitual be, so "I be working." Those are specific to those dialects and they're overt forms. There are also camouflaged forms, and I love camouflage.
0:27:16 JO: So to teach me about them in her writings but these are forms that looked like, for me being a general American English speaker, I might see the form in a transcript and say, "Oh, that's a general American English form but the child's using it wrong." Well that's completely naive. If the speaker's an AAE speaking child, that child is using the form in a way that is appropriate for AAE. It's camouflaged because I think with my general American English lens, that it... "Oh that had the plus verb, that's a past perfect. Why is the child using a past perfect in a simple past sentence?" And it's like, "Well, if you study AAE and you look at John Rickford's work, you learn that had plus verb form is actually a preterite form." It's felicitous or grammatical in to be a simple past tense marker. So, something that initially you might think is an error, is actually a dialect-appropriate form that in kindergarten, if an AAE speaking child uses it, it correlates with that child actually is better at narratives. They get higher scores on... When we assess their narratives, they're actually stronger users of story structure because it tends to be a structure that gets used not always, but gets used in personal storytelling.
0:28:47 TH: That's really interesting.
0:28:49 JO: Isn't that cool?
0:28:50 TH: It is so cool. And it just really does... It really is important to have this kind of not shift but just a clear understanding that a child... I like how you started in the beginning. A child with developmental language disorder, we know has a system that's inefficient for learning language. If you're a child born into a... You're gonna be born into a language, speaking a language at home and in a context, a culture, and that language has its own patterns. And if you are picking up on those patterns as you would expect, then you would be a child who would count as typically developing cause they're picking up on those specific patterns of that dialect as they should. But the indicator of DLD is that they're not picking up on those dialects. But what I hear you saying is that that can be tricky because not picking up on those dialectical forms may look more like general American English, when actually, it's a sign that they're not maybe acquiring their dialectical forms as much. When you talk about the camouflage, it sounds like if they are using this kind of higher level or more advanced kind of aspect of their dialect, that could be indicative of being good at storytelling which is indicative of more general language. Am I reiterating that right for the listeners?
0:30:09 JO: I think so, I think so. The key is is if you think of these dialects... Any time you use the word dialect, you can use the word language. And in fact, there's a large group of scholars who study African American English and they prefer the term language. So, one of the tests I do when I write is that every time I write the word dialect, I put in the word language. And if the sentence still makes sense, then I have treated the word dialect appropriate. Another thing I like to do is take out the word, whatever dialect I'm studying, and I throw in General American English and I mix up the labels and I say, "Okay. Now when I read the sentence, is it meaningful or am I treating that minority dialect as a less-than dialect?"
0:30:53 TH: Right.
0:30:54 JO: And so you can kind of fix your writing. But to your point being that yeah, if you're a week learner, you're a week learner of the dialect of your community.
0:31:02 TH: So when you said that there's the map that showed the 24 different dialects in the US, you could think of those as 24 different languages and they have their own rules?
0:31:15 JO: Well, I'm not a linguist.
0:31:16 TH: I know, I know. I shouldn't be putting you on the spot.
0:31:21 JO: So every child in those 24 communities or those 28 or linguists would use a map with a much bigger... Every single child is using a language. A full system that is appropriate for that area, and the children with DLD are the children who are not learning that as well as their same dialect peers.
0:31:42 TH: Now I think that's... I know I'm being kind of broad here, and I apologize to any linguist listeners that I have and just comment and correct me. I'm really making broad generalizations. But I'm doing that in the service of having a paradigm shift. And that's what I hear you saying is that when we think about bilingual speakers for instance, they're speaking two different languages. And they've been deemed languages based on maybe even more socio-political, cultural aspects and maybe we don't attend to the fact that we have these different dialects in the United States and those dialects are functioning as languages. They have their own complex rules. And so we have to think about development within those contexts. So, it's not just thinking about the different languages a child speaks but actually thinking about their individual dialect and how we characterize DLD within that dialect. And I think that might be a novel concept for some of the listeners to think in that way. I know it's definitely a shift for me even to think in that way, so I just wanna hit that point home cause it's so important with your framework of disorder within difference. I'm sorry, it's that... And I think I'm saying that wrong. Am I saying it right?
0:32:55 JO: Disorder within dialect or disorder within difference? Either one. You have to put the word disorder first and it's very... We've spent how many years saying it the other way and I still mess it up.
0:33:06 TH: That's the point, I keep... I have some notes on...
0:33:10 JO: But you just have to keep remembering that we're experts in disorders...
0:33:14 TH: Yes.
0:33:15 JO: And we have... Our prevalence of our children in a classroom should be small, and our job is to find those kids. And so keeping it to be disorder within dialect or within disorder keeps us focused on our charge.
0:33:30 TH: Okay. And if you have... The clinicians that are listening, in particular the SLPs, how do they implement your framework in practice? What are some practical tips you would give them for just now, listening to this podcast saying, "Okay, I gotta think differently about this in my clinical practice."
0:33:46 JO: Well, one thing I'd recommend is journal writing. And so writing down your experiences in your day to day work. And so what you might find is you start with some things that you always know, "Oh, this child always uses ain't." Well, the minute you write that, then your charge could be, "I gotta figure out all the ways this child uses ain't." Does he use it for doesn't? Does he use it for isn't? Does he use it for hasn't? Or does he have a really narrow range where he's only using it in one particular case. So that ain't is simple, it's not that complicated but I pick it just because it's an easy example. But you can do that with your zero forms of be: Is, are, am, was, or were. Children who speak AAE or SWE don't zero mark those at all the same frequencies. You tend to have high rates of overt marking for am, was and were. Slightly lower rates for is and your lowest rates of overt marking for are. So, you get this very systematic pattern that's in AAE. In Southern white English, you get everything at high rates except for are. Are is much lower. So, it's dialectical but much more constrained than African American English.
0:35:06 JO: Gullah Geechee, you get zero marked forms on all of them. So, you get zero marked forms of am and you get some zero marked forms of was and were. And so as a clinician, asking yourself, "Okay, I work in a community where I'm hearing dialects other than General American English. I'm an expert in general American English but if I wanna help this child, I need to be an expert or at least a learner of the dialect the child speaks." I always say the best person to teach code-switching is somebody who code switches, who knows how to do it and shares when they started doing it, when they started noticing they had to do it and what were... How do they do it?
0:35:51 JO: I oftentimes find that what we're really talking about is code editing. So, people are very conscious of what they're doing when they're writing, I code edit. I have certain things that I always have to check my writing for because I don't always speak the same way I write. And so code editing is something that's different than code-switching perhaps.
0:36:15 TH: That's very interesting.
0:36:16 JO: You mentioned bilingual children, and one of the things with bilingual children is we have code blending. And Vershawn Ashanti Young is someone who's really helped us understand the word code blending or code meshing, and it's perfect speech pathology. What does the speech pathologist do with a late talker? We teach baby signs, right? And we try to help the family to say, "We don't care how your child communicates. If the child wants to use a sign, if the child wants to use an eye gaze, a grunt, a vocalization or a word. All of this is communication. And we wanna help your child start communicating." Well, code meshing or code blending tells a child, "We want you to bring all your ways of language to a task."
0:37:04 TH: Yes.
0:37:05 JO: Right? So any, any part of you. The language that you're most comfortable with, that is part of who you are, things that you're learning at school, you have a large repertoire or a large inventory of language and you're gonna use them all in these different tasks. And so I think the bilingual literature has really helped us in that area but I really like code meshing. Another book I will plug since I'm on is Anne Charity Hudley's book, We Do Language. Its for secondary students.
0:37:39 TH: Great.
0:37:40 JO: She has a co-author, but it's a fabulous book. You read it and you wish your children could have a teacher that was trained by them. All the beauty and complexity of language comes out in that book.
0:37:57 TH: Well, that's fantastic. And I feel like there's a poverty of work oftentimes in those later grades too.
0:38:03 JO: Secondary.
0:38:05 TH: Yeah. So that's really great to have that resource. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense too in thinking about working with a child who is struggling to learn language within their dialect, to be thinking about how to improve language but in a functional way, that they can then communicate within their dialect and they can communicate in academic language, whatever that may be. So, learning the individual vocabulary words for a science or social studies or what's needed for that to...
0:38:32 JO: Right. Well and a code mesh... A repertoire approach would say, "All you're doing is you're taking what the child came to school with and you're making it larger."
0:38:44 TH: Yup.
0:38:46 JO: So the larger you can make his repertoire of language to include literate language, he doesn't have to lose his ability to use language from the home or the community, you want all of those ways. I mean, think about your favorite books. They oftentimes will have community or gender or things from the community woven into the writing. And Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, a number of fabulous writers weave their repertoire, their language forms together and that really should be the goal for our kids.
0:39:28 TH: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is also, I wanna go back to the fact that you said it's a universal phenomenon. We have listeners from all over the world and this is not something that's just unique to the United States. There's dialects all over the world and this approach of thinking about developmental language disorder applies within all dialects. And I think that's an important message too, to keep in mind for the listeners. It's not something that's happening in the US. Now, you have this probe that you're using and the research you've done, is that available to clinicians?
0:40:00 JO: So we're in the process of making it available. Our past tense probe is 24 four-second animations and they're in a PowerPoint. And we are happy to give those out. We created them so that the verbs don't end in consonants. Cause African-American English, you can get some final consonant cluster reduction. And so they all end in vowels or glides. We're really happy with that probe and it will be made available on our website soon. But when people email us, we're happy to send those through a Dropbox link and we're in the process of getting our sentence recall task put out as well. Part of those is helping people know how to score.
0:40:49 TH: Yes.
0:40:50 JO: If you score it through a General American English lens, there's really no reason to have the animations. If you can adopt a dialect-appropriate scoring system, then I think you'll be able to separate out typical and impaired kids.
0:41:08 TH: Thank you for making that.
0:41:09 JO: At least it's one piece.
0:41:10 TH: That's fantastic. Thank you for making that available. I think it's so important and that's a really rich resource that clinicians can get their hands on and I'll make sure and put the link in our resources on the website. And then in the meantime, if they want to email you, they can do that as well it sounds like for the lab to keep those resources.
0:41:26 JO: Yeah, yeah.
0:41:29 TH: Okay. I'm gonna be mindful of our time and I love all the things that we've talked about. Is there anything you wanna hit that we haven't hit before I turn to my two final questions that I ask everyone?
0:41:42 JO: No, I'm greatly enjoying. I'm so happy you do this.
0:41:46 TH: Oh, well. I'm so happy you came on. This is so great. So, the first question I ask is what are you working on now that you're most excited about?
0:41:56 JO: So I'm most excited about taking the sentence recall probe and the grammaticality tasks. And we have a non-word repetition and the size judgment task in there as well, but the language probes have really worked better than the working... We developed those and tested them in a rural area. So, I'm really excited about trying to get funding to take those probes and do a more stratified sample. My guess is we're gonna have different cut scores depending on the child's dialect because these dialects are not the same.
0:42:35 JO: And so to be dialect-appropriate, you would implement the task appropriate for that dialect. But we're not gonna be able to show people those cut scores unless we do a much larger sample. But I'm confident they can be used, I just think we're gonna have to do some adjusting. And then I think we'll be able to put some other things in there like positive family history. We shouldn't have been surprised but we asked our families, our African-American families, about family history and sure enough, we replicated the same findings in studies of family history and DLD and that you get twice as many positive family history reports in our families with DLD than you do in typically developing controlled children whose families are African-American. And so we really as clinicians, need to start using that information more in our reports.
0:43:37 TH: Yeah, that's been...
0:43:38 JO: For our diagnostic decisions.
0:43:39 TH: That's been tricky too in the dyslexia field. I think only tricky because of maybe comfort level for asking those kinds of questions and maybe even just framework, like what is the approach and how do you get that information in a way that's systematic. But I agree with you, it does seem like it's very helpful information and especially thinking about the genetic piece but how do we word it and it sounds like you have such a good approach and so many people do, how to word the question to really get at, "Do you have a family history? What does this look like?" Cause it can be a little confusing too. If you say, "Did you have dyslexia?" Well then I can say, "Yes, probably because it wasn't even diagnosed then," or say, "Did you have language impairment?" "Well, no." But the way you ask the questions and to think about it is so helpful. I hope that gets implemented more and I'm glad you mentioned that here too within this discussion.
0:44:30 TH: The other thing I was gonna ask you, I almost forgot, is how has your research changed from the onset of COVID-19, like school closures and such? Has your research changed quite a bit from that or?
0:44:40 JO: I would say on one hand, no. We were very lucky that we were in a writing phase.
0:44:46 TH: Okay.
0:44:47 JO: And so we just hunkered down and have been trying to write. Both of my PhD students though, because of COVID, are doing... They're not collecting data with humans. One is doing, working with the public school and doing the chart review and focusing on screening for monolingual and bilingual children. And then the other one is looking at some grammaticality judgment data in speakers of AAE where typical and present with DLD. So COVID's here. We are... Comes Fall, we'll start trying to run our probes remotely. They should work just fine, but we definitely wanna document the feasibility of that.
0:45:35 TH: Well that's... It's very... In some ways, the silver lining to be able to look back at some of the data that's been sitting there. And for me, I'm speaking my own personal, but we have some data that's sitting there that needs attention and now we can give it some attention. So that's really nice. I know not everyone's in that position but if you are, it is nice to think more about disseminating those results we've always wanna disseminate or getting out these clinical tools which sounds like you're doing too which is so helpful, very helpful. And now I'm gonna ask the hardest question. Everyone says this is the hardest question. Favorite book from your childhood or now?
0:46:12 JO: Yeah, I can't believe that's a hard question. Although I've enjoyed listening to your other podcast, people mention books and I'm like, "Oh yeah, we read The Berenstain Bears." "Oh yeah, we read... " My favorite book was "The Red Balloon," I have it right here, my original copy.
0:46:31 JO: I know. I was living in Canada at the time or at least this was my memory. And it's actually, there's been a movie made out of it. I've never watched the 38-minute movie but it was by Albert Lamorisse, he was a French writer and it's set in Paris, and it's about a little boy who doesn't have a brother or sister and he befriends a balloon. And he protects the balloon and then finally some mean boys burst the balloon. And it ends with all the balloons of the city coming to his rescue and taking him on a wonderful ride around the city. And then I asked my parents, I was recently home in Illinois and I kind of wanted... I said, "I'm gonna be on this podcast to check my memory, I think that you used to read this book to me when we lived in Canada." And my mom and dad have the biggest smile on their face, and they said, my dad said, "We would read you a couple pages of that and you would bounce on our bed to try to catch the balloon. And then you would go to sleep." And my bed was a sleeping bag next to their bed.
0:47:40 JO: They were happily married. They didn't have any money but they... It was just wonderful because then it started a whole conversation of their time of when they lived in Canada. So, isn't that the beauty of books?
0:47:51 TH: Yes. It really is.
0:47:53 JO: When they help you share memories and...
0:47:56 TH: That is... That's the best feeling of it. You can make that connection around books, it's such a positive experience.
0:48:03 JO: Yeah. Now I did... I have to disclose, I read this book to both of my children when they were young, and it did nothing for them.
0:48:10 TH: Why is that? I don't...
0:48:13 TH: That's I guess the point. Variety is the spice of life. There's so many books, you gotta find the right one. But it is true. I'm surprised sometimes with books my kids like versus don't. I can't really predict it but it's still regardless, it's such a great memory to have and I'm glad you shared that. I've never heard of that book, so I'd love to get the books my guests talk about. I know I'm embarrassed to say sometimes the books I don't know about, but I will get them and try them out. I'm always looking for new children's books.
0:48:41 JO: Oh, well part of you thinks Pascal, that's the main character, but he had very short blond hair and my mom always kept my hair above my ears. And so, I think I thought I looked like him, which is another great thing about books, if you can give children books that look like them...
0:49:00 TH: Yes.
0:49:02 JO: It's easier for them to have an affinity and a connection with the book. So yeah, this book has just followed me along.
0:49:10 TH: Oh. That's so cool. I love that you have that book, too. You have the original, that's amazing. I mean like...
0:49:16 JO: Yeah. Yeah.
0:49:17 TH: That's very cool. Well Jenna, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate having you on the podcast. Thank you so much.
0:49:25 JO: Well, thank you for having me.
49:29 TH: Check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com for helpful resources associated with this podcast including, for example, the podcast transcript, research articles, & speakers bios. You can also sign up for email alerts on the website or subscribe to the podcast on apple podcasts or any other listening platform, so you will be the first to hear about new episodes.
Thank you for listening and good luck to you, making the world a better place by helping one child at a time.