Frank Porter Graham Longitudinal Study of AAL

In November 2020, Cambridge University Press published African American Language: Language Development from Infancy to Adulthood by Mary Kohn (Kansas State University), Walt Wolfram (North Carolina State University), Charlie Farrington (University of Oregon), Jennifer Renn (Purdue University Indiana) and Janneke Van Hofwegen (Google). 

In January 2022, the Linguistic Society of America awarded African American Language the Leonard Bloomfield Book Award for 2022. From the announcment:

African American Language, by Kohn, Wolfram, Farrington, Renn, and Van Hofwegen, makes a remarkable and unique contribution to the study of African American language, contributing substantially to our understanding of how children construct identity, negotiate status and relationships, and transition across life stages by means of and as represented by their language. The book’s meticulous longitudinal methodology provides unprecedented insight into the real-time implementation of change and the spread of innovation across the community. In its minute examination of language development from infancy to adulthood of sixty-seven African American children, this study provides a precise description of the effects of caretakers’ influence, peer influence on language development, and the relationship between AAL and early literacy. Perhaps even more importantly, it provides a new model for sociolinguistic and socio-historical analysis of African American and other speech communities: it demonstrates that not only should demographic factors be taken into consideration on a synchronic level, but also trends that exist in the community of practice on a diachronic level, trends which are adopted and expanded to varying degrees by young speakers and which are often detectable only through longitudinal analysis. This work contributes substantially to various fields of linguistic inquiry: African  American linguistics, sociolinguistics, developmental linguistics, historical and socio-historical analysis.  The LSA congratulates the authors for their impressive, groundbreaking achievement.

FPG Longitudinal Examples

Several years ago, I extracted audio clips from the FPG archive to highlight the large and complex nature of the data. The following examples are from recordings from the Frank Porter Graham longitudinal study of African American English (see Kohn et al. 2020), which was part of the larger Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. The majority of the recordings were made on cassette tapes, transferred to compact disc, and subsequently uploaded to the Sociolinguistic Archive and Analysis Project.

Below you’ll find recording excerpts of two FPG participants who were recorded several times between age 2 and age 20. There are a variety of conditions (mother child interactions, peer interactions, standardized tests, and sociolinguistic interviews), and quality varies from recording to recording. Speaker K268 is a Chapel Hill, NC native, who Mary Kohn and I have analyzed extensively for our various vowel analyses. Speaker 1066, from Durham County, NC, is featured in other longitudinal analyses (e.g. Van Hofwegen and Wolfram 2010; Kohn et al. 2020)

Speaker K268

Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Born 1991.

Age 2, July 1993

“Do you see it?”
“Where he finna out?”

Age 3.5, December 1994

“Um, he- he gotta- he gotta go bye-bye”

Age 4, August 1995

“Imagine, just use your imagination!”

Age 5, June 1996

“I did- I never fell- but, um, fell- nowhere. But you know what?”
“A dog pushed me in the river.”

Age 7, April 1998

“Well, I accidentally went near the stove. And-“
“You accidentally did what?”
“Went near the stove.”
“Went near the stove! Uh-huh?”
“And um it was hot and my mom was boiling peas, which I don’t really like that much kind of-“
“But then um it tipped over and the pot broke and it splattered all over the place!”

Age 8, August 1999

“Why would somebody give you twelve dollars and stuff like that for just one little tooth?”

Age 9, July 2000

“But they found out that their boat was full of water from… rain from yesterday.”

Age 10, April 2001

“I’d like to be a singer. I love to sing and I like practicing my vocals”

Age 11, June 2002

“They’re probably talking about don’t forget about where you came from”

Age 12, June 2003

“And like she’s like a like I don’t know like a monster or whatever and like she kills like when darkness falls. So if you go into the light she’s not gonna like – that’s like a safe point”

Age 14, June 2005

“Julia is third in line at the water fountain”

Age 15, June 2006

“I can multitask. I’m kind of a procrastinator. But, once I procrastinate really badly, then I get over it. And- and I know, like- so I stress really badly for like that one day. But once I’m done, then I- there’s like so much stress lifted off my shoulders, and then my life’s all good again!”

Age 16, August 2007

“Julia was third in line at the water fountain”

Age 20, June 2011

“Sometimes I like I do feel like I’m switching my voice… I like my experience with the project”

Speaker 1066

Durham County, North Carolina. Born 1991.

Age 2, September 1993

“What is that?”
“What is that?”
“No, that’s a swing.”
“/Swing/. /Flower/”
“Okay. It’s a good time to eat a picnic lunch.”

Age 2.5, March 1994

“I’ll stand right here. You tell me what- what you’re doing.”
“This here.”
“Who is that?”
“Big Bird.”

Age 3, October 1994

“Where do you get to play with that?”
“At the park!”

Age 4, August 1995

“You step in mud with your boots on!”

Age 5, July 1996

“I fell trying to walk on the side.”
“Then I fell.”
“Yeah, and then what happened?”
“My grandma put a band aid on me.”

Age 6, May 1997

“I got french fries and a burger and coke.”

Age 7, March 1998

“I have show and tell. Somebody took it!”

Age 8, July 1999

“Last night’s rain, bucket was full, and he found a big rock that he can stand on so he won’t get his shoes wet”
“when he fish.”

Age 9, July 2000

“What was the boggart doing to the farmer and his family?”
“Taking the sheets off the bed, and throwing ’em down the steps and scaring ’em and waking ’em up.”

Age 10, April 2001

“He made whirlwinds with his tail, and blow a hat off somebody a mile away.” (recorded fast)

Age 11, July 2002

“Why the story got a Black boy acting like he trying to be white?”

Age 12, June 2003

“Five hundred dollars.”

Age 14, July 2005

“When I was at my old house, and I’d be upstairs, I be by myself. And downstairs, it’s a deck, and then you got a, um, window right there by the kitchen.”
“And I think, um, <ts> I used to always think somebody’d come into the window cause you could just bust one of ’em out and walk right in.”
“Plus it was, um, bushes that covered our front windows. You could- you could hide right there and just open a window and go through.”

Age 15, July 2006

“How they- they would change the subject every week.”
“Then they c- make you do a review on it. Three weeks later, after they done taught you three different lessons, I been done forgot it.”

Age 16, July 2007

“What do you do on cars?”
“Install car audio, and all the- detail, and tint.”

Age 20, June 2011

“I don’t think it’s appropriate or inappropriate. I mean it’s just how some people are brought up how they talk. Like, that’s how you talk, you ain’t got no- You can’t help it. Like I said, you c[ei]n’t help it instead of saying “you c[æ]n’t help it”