Infants’ Discrimination of Familiar and Unfamiliar Accents in Speech
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This study investigates infants’ discrimination abilities for familiar and unfamiliar regional English accents. Using a variation of the head-turn preference procedure, 5-month-old infants demonstrated that they were able to distinguish between their own South-West English accent and an unfamiliar Welsh English accent. However, this distinction was not seen when two unfamiliar accents (Welsh English and Scottish English) were presented to the infants, indicating they had not acquired the general ability to distinguish between regional varieties, but only the distinction between their home accent and unfamiliar regional variations. This ability was also confirmed with 7-month-olds, challenging recent claims that infants lose their sensitivity to dialects at around that age. Taken together, our results argue in favor of an early sensitivity to the intonation system of languages, and to the early learning of accent-specific intonation and potentially segmental patterns. Implications for the development of accent normalization abilities are discussed.
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