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The purpose of this study was to examine Cajun English (CE)-speaking childrens marking of infinitival TO. To do this, CE-speaking childrens marking of infinitival TO was compared to the marking of infinitival TO by Southern White English (SWE)- and African American English (AAE)-speaking children. Marking of infinitival TO also was examined as a function of the childrens clinical status (i.e., Specific Language Impairment, SLI, or typically developing, TD) and by the verb contexts that preceded the infinitival TO forms. <br>
<br>The data came from 180 kindergarteners who lived in four rural towns in Assumption Parish, Louisiana. The childrens dialect classifications were based on their school location, which led to 37 children classified speakers of CE, 68 classified as speakers of SWE, and 75 classified as speakers of AAE. The childrens clinical status was based on a review of each childs academic profile and test scores, which led to 54 children classified as SLI and 126 classified as TD. The data were 4,530 infinitival TO contexts that were extracted from play-based, examiner-child, language samples. Within the samples, the childrens infinitival TO contexts were coded as zero marked (e.g., went Ø go) or overtly marked (e.g., went to go), and the preceding verb contexts were classified as GO, COME, WENT, or all OTHER verbs (e.g., want, like, have). <br>
<br>Results indicated that the childrens overall marking of infinitival TO did not differ as a function of their dialects. However, the preceding verb context influenced the CE-speaking childrens rates of zero marking in ways that differed from what was found for the SWE- and AAE-speaking children. Also, for each dialect, the childrens overall rates of zero marked infinitival TO were higher for the SLI group than for the TD controls, and this finding was directly tied to differences in the childrens zero marking of infinitival TO when it was preceded by a verb classified as OTHER. Together, these findings show subtle differences in the use of grammar by children who speak different nonmainstream dialects of English while also further documenting the grammatical weaknesses of children with SLI within these dialects.