Register preferences in the academic writing of African-American students

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Teaching and Learning

First Committee Member

Arlene Clachar - Committee Chair


This study focuses on the challenges that African-American students who are speakers of Standard English as a Second Dialect (SESD) face as they develop academic writing skills. By looking into the relationship between (1) linguistic socialization in the African-American discourse communities and (2) development of registers in academic writing of African-American students, the study purports to demonstrate how the speech patterns of the African-American community become pervasive in the development of academic expository writing skills. The study examines the development of the registers of academic writing by African-American college-level students through the lenses of style and structure. Conceptualizing style as an aspect of register allows a deeper insight into the way academic writing may be affected by stylistic feature such as indirection and verbal artistry inherent in the oral culture of the African-American speech community as well as by grammatical resources such as strategies in conjunction and clause combining typical of oral registers focusing on because as a cohesive link.To determine the extent of presence of strategies related to indirection and of the paratactic functions of because, 74 examples of academic writing by 20 African-American undergraduate students were analyzed and compared to a control group comprised of 61 samples. Discourse analysis of the samples and statistical analysis of the occurrences of indirection and paratactic functions of because revealed first, that their use is significantly more prevalent among African-American students than is true for the control group. Second, among the group of African-American students, those classified as belonging to a lower socio-economic level exhibited statistically significant higher frequencies of the use of both indirection and paratactic because. A relationship of hierarchy in the uses of indirection and paratactic because was also evident in the data. The study concludes with some implications for further research and suggestions for teacher education concerned with the specific challenges faced by African-American college students in dealing with registers of academic writing.


Education, Language and Literature; Education, Bilingual and Multicultural; Black Studies; Language, Rhetoric and Composition

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