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  1. Section Editor(s): Washington, Julie A. Issue Editor
  2. Terry, Nicole Patton Issue Editor

Article Content

Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he (she) has been born. - (Huxley, 1954, p. 15)


In the case of children who speak two languages (bilingual) or dialects (bidialectal), Huxley's quote above rings particularly true. The benefits of being bilingual are widely reported, and the importance of being bidialectal have been discussed widely as well. Children who are bilingual reportedly exhibit a "bilingual advantage" in their executive functioning such that they are more flexible linguistically and exhibit stronger self-regulation skills than their monolingual peers. This advantage has been reported for bidialectal speakers as well.


Conversely, research focused on bilingual and bidialectal children that compares them with the mainstream language standard often focuses on linguistic differences in a negative, subtractive fashion, focusing on the weaknesses of bilingual and bidialectal children compared with children who speak Mainstream American English (MAE). In this way, our focus on these linguistic differences can victimize rather than benefit young bidialectal and bilingual speakers, as Huxley (1954) suggested.


The authors in this special issue have been challenged to examine the language and reading differences and commonalities of bidialectal and bilingual children. These children present obvious differences linguistically. This issue intentionally presents those places in language and reading where the language and reading skills of these children overlap. Implications for clinic, education, and future research directions are discussed. Two articles are presented focused entirely on language, one on reading in bilingual and bidialectal speakers and one that examines the statistical properties of both language and reading in children who speak MAE, as well as those whose languages and dialects differ from American English and MAE.


Lee-James and Washington (2018) examine the commonalities and differences of bilingual and bidialectal children using a strengths-based perspective. They provide evidence of these strengths in both linguistic skill areas (morphosyntax, complex syntax, oral narratives, code-switching) and nonlinguistic ones (executive functions); furthermore, they discuss the potential advantages to clinicians of considering the areas of intersection for Spanish-speaking and African American English-speaking children when establishing language or interactive goals.


In the next article, O'Keefe (2018) takes a different approach by focusing on the language input of Head Start preschool teachers to their young urban, dialect speakers in the classroom. In particular, O'Keefe discusses lessons that can be learned by studying the experiences of one Head Start teacher who is learning to change how she communicates during storybook reading with preschool children growing up in poverty, including by focusing on the complexity and diversity of her own language. The experiences and discourse data provided by Michelle provide rich and compelling examples of the changes in Michelle's discourse over time with examples of how such changes can have a positive influence on the language used by her students.


Terry, Gatlin, and Johnson (2018) focus on the similarities and differences in the reading acquisition of young bilingual and bidialectal readers using a strengths-based perspective. Both groups have a long-standing history of academic achievement gaps when compared with their White and Asian peers. The authors challenge the notion, however, that it is the language differences of these children that lead to this well-described gap and discuss linguistic differences and related executive function advantages as potential strengths that can be used to support reading, as opposed to current discussions that indicate that these differences may contribute to overall risk of failure.


In the final article, Seidenberg and MacDonald (2018) extend our current thinking about language and language variation to include statistical learning, which they define as the unconscious encoding of language patterns. In other words, it is implicit learning that children develop on the basis of repeated experience with language input. The authors assert that varying amounts of experience with language can impact both language development and literacy. In addition to the amount of input, the nature of that input can impact children's development of oral language and literacy as well. These authors' discussion of statistical learning has implications for children who are bilingual and bidialectal. Their discussion makes even more important the work presented by O'Keefe (2018), which argues for attending to the input that children receive and not just their output.


Taken together, these four articles provide exciting new information and ways to think about language differences. The perspectives presented in this issue should be useful to researchers, teachers, and clinicians working with diverse populations. Most importantly perhaps, these articles challenge and encourage any professional working with bilingual and bidialectal children to examine deficit-based thinking and consider the uniqueness of these children's language skills with a lens of strengths that can be built upon and encouraged rather than deficits that need to be overcome.


-Julie A. Washington


-Nicole Patton Terry


Issue Editors


Georgia State University






Huxley A. (1954). The doors of perception. London: Chatto & Windus. [Context Link]


Lee-James R., Washington J. A. (2018). Language skills of bidialectal and bilingual children: Considering a strengths-based perspective. Topics in Language Disorders, 38(1), 5-26. [Context Link]


O'Keefe C. (2018). Professional development aimed at increasing the quality of language input during storybook interactions: Lessons from one head start teacher's experiences. Topics in Language Disorders, 38(1), 27-49. [Context Link]


Seidenberg M. S., MacDonald M. M. (2018). The impact of language experience on language and reading: A statistical learning approach. Topics in Language Disorders, 38(1), 66-83. [Context Link]


Terry N. P., Gatlin B., Johnson L. (2018). Same or different: How bilingual readers can help us understand bidialectal readers. Topics in Language Disorders, 38(1), 50-65. [Context Link]