The influence of linguistic bias upon speech-language pathologists’ attitudes toward clinical scenarios involving nonstandard dialects of English

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Variation within languages, including dialects, takes on an indexical function, marking belonging and connection. Meanwhile, attitudes toward these speech varieties become marked by linguistic bias. Within the speech-language pathology profession, research evidence, assessment tools, and intervention programs have largely been designed for and by the White, English-speaking middle class. As such, linguistic bias with a preference for standardized dialects is prevalent in the training and practice of the speech-language pathology profession, resulting in discriminatory and racialized practices.


To investigate the influence of linguistic bias upon speech-language pathologists' (SLPs') clinical decision making, data were collected from 129 Australian SLPs via an online survey. Inferential statistics were used to investigate the relationship between clinical decision making and SLPs' attitudes toward nonstandard dialects as well as personal and professional factors. A content analysis of extended responses was conducted to identify themes in clinical decision making.


SLPs with more years of experience and those who had received professional development were significantly more likely to seek out more information before making a diagnosis, while those with more negative attitudes toward linguistic diversity were significantly more likely to identify a disorder than a difference. SLPs provided a range of justifications for their clinical decision making, but few acknowledged the influence of their own attitudes and bias upon their decision making.


SLPs' linguistic bias towards speakers of nonstandard dialects has the potential to impact upon their clinical judgment of difference versus disorder and lead to inequality of service provision for speakers who do not express themselves in standardized forms. Before the profession can truly move toward an antiracist approach of equitable service provision for all, SLPs must engage in critical self-reflection to disrupt the adherence of the speech-language pathology profession to standardized “White” norms of communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1973-1989
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Journal of Speech-Language Pathology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2021


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