The influence of long-term exposure to dialect variation on representation specificity and word learning in toddlers.
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Until very recently language development research classified the language learner as belonging to one of two discrete groups – monolingual or bilingual. This thesis explores the hypothesis that this is an insufficient description of language input and that there are sub-groups within the monolingual category based on the phonological variability of their exposure that could be considered akin to that of bilingual toddlers. For some monolingual toddlers, classified as monodialectal, their language exposure is generally consistent, because both of their parents speak the dialect of the local area. Yet for other toddlers, classified as multidialectal, the language environment is more variable, because at least one of their parents speaks with a dialect that differs from the local area. It is considered that by testing this group of multidialectal toddlers it will be possible to explore the effect of variability on language development and how increased variability in the bilingual linguistic environment might be influencing aspects of language development. This thesis approaches the influence of variability from three areas of interest: phonetic specificity of familiar words using a mispronunciation paradigm (Experiments 1 and 2), target recognition of naturally occurring pronunciation alternatives (Experiments 3 and 4) and use of the Mutual Exclusivity strategy in novel word learning (Experiment 5). Results show that there are differences between the two dialect groups (monodialectal and multidialectal) in a mispronunciation detection task but that toddlers perform similarly with naturally occurring pronunciation alternatives and in their application of the Mutual Exclusivity strategy. This programme of work highlights that there is an influence of linguistic variability on aspects of language development, justifying the parallel between bilingualism and multidialectalism.
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