Kids prefer friends who have a familiar accent
Language has a strong influence on forming social groups. It’s quite common for adults to unconsciously discriminate against others based on the way they speak. Researchers have known that by the age of five, children show a strong preference for other children who speak in their native language and with a familiar accent. But very little is known about the factors that influence the strength and direction of accent-based group preferences in children.
The English-speaking Canadian children had moderate to high exposure to non-local accents and just as in the first experiment they showed a preference for their Canadian-accent peers, but in the second experiment, the effect was greater.
To understand how, when and why people develop biased preferences for similar accents and languages, researchers from the University of California conducted three experiments that included almost 150 children growing up in Toronto — one of the world’s most linguistically and culturally diverse cities. More than half of the residents were born outside of Canada and close to 50 per cent learned a language other than English from birth.
In the first experiment, five- and six-year-old children were shown pairs of children on a computer screen. One child spoke English in a Canadian accent while the other child spoke with an English accent. After listening to the speakers, the children were asked to a pick the child they wanted as their friend. The researchers also examined if exposure to people with other accents in their everyday life influenced their preferences. Most children reported moderate to frequent contact with someone of a different accent — either it was someone who lived with them, at daycare or a teacher with a different accent. The amount of exposure children had with other accents did not hinder their preference to be friends with peers who spoke with a Canadian accent over those who spoke in British accents.
In the second experiment, the researchers made the same number of English-only speaking children listen to the voices of children who were born and raised in Korea and had learned English as a second language. The English-speaking Canadian children had moderate to high exposure to non-local accents and just as in the first experiment they showed a preference for their Canadian-accent peers, but in the second experiment, the effect was greater.
In the final experiment. the children listened to voices of Canadian, British and Korean speakers used in experiments one and two. After the voices were played, the researchers asked the children, “Who talks like you? Like they grew up here?” The children found it easier to differentiate between the Canadian and Korean and British and Korean speakers but had a hard time distinguishing between Canadian and British speakers. The researchers believe that children are better at distinguishing their local accent from a non-native accent, compared with a regional accent.
The study shows that preferences for people with similar accents starts in early childhood and may be driven by familiarity rather than a dislike for people who speak differently.
Source: Developmental Psychology
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