Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor Jamie Mahurin Smith is one of the authors of a recent publication in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology titled “Does Rare Vocabulary Use Distinguish Giftedness from Typical Development? A Study of School-Age African American Narrators.”

Jamie Mahurin Smith

Smith became interested in children’s use of rare vocabulary as a doctoral student listening to recordings of children telling stories. “Why do some kids say ’emerald’ or ‘seafoam’ while others just say ‘green’?” she wondered. “What makes a kid drop ‘ziggurat’ into a conversation?”

Smith developed a measure to assess children’s spontaneous use of unusual vocabulary, and in previous papers she described its utility for children born prematurely as well as typically developing children. In the most recent project, she looked at narratives from African-American children.

Since African-American children are underidentified as gifted and overidentified as delayed, there is a need for culturally fair assessment tools. Measuring their use of rare vocabulary in personal narratives allowed the research team to distinguish between gifted and typically developing children. In contrast to some existing measures, Smith’s tool was just as effective for children who used African-American English.

Smith is continuing this collaboration to investigate rare vocabulary use as a tool for identifying African-American children at increased risk of language impairment. Preliminary results are very promising.