Fast mapping verb meaning from argument structure
Current methods for assessing African American English (AAE) speaking children's semantic knowledge are seriously flawed. Many AAE-speaking children who do not have language disorders perform poorly on standardized vocabulary tests. However, there is no reason to believe that all of these AAE-speaking children are deficient in their ability to learn a rich and functional vocabulary. Existing vocabulary tests often are culturally biased because lexical items are selected and normed on middle- class Euro-American children. This results in an inherent bias against linguistically and culturally diverse populations. Some African American children have less exposure to the lexical items selected for use on standardized tests than Euro-American middle-class children. These cultural and language differences become exacerbated when these children enter school. Frequently, AAE-speaking children are referred to the school speech- language pathologist (SLP) for language testing. However, the SLP is often ill-equipped to provide an unbiased evaluation due to reasons previously mentioned. The problem for the SLP is to determine what areas of semantics to test and what methods should be utilized in this assessment. This study investigated the processing-dependent measure of fast mapping as an alternative method of assessing semantic knowledge in children. AAE and Standard American English (SAE) speaking children between the ages of four and six were presented with two comprehension tasks involving real verbs and the fast mapping of novel verbs in four different argument structures (intransitive, transitive, transfer, and complement). These tasks were developed to evaluate how children use syntactic bootstrapping to help fix the meaning of new verbs. The participants' performance on the alternative assessment measure was compared to their performance on a commonly used psychometric vocabulary test. Although significant differences were found between AAE- and SAE-speakers in the transitive argument structure for real verbs and transfer argument structure for both real and novel verbs, overall results indicated that both groups were able to fast map novel verbs. A performance gap between AAE and SAE participants on the psychometric vocabulary test was noted in this study. These results suggest the feasibility of fast mapping as a method to reduce test bias in semantic assessment.