LINGUIST List 25.366

Wed Jan 22 2014

Diss: Sociolinguistics: Beck: 'The Role of Socio-indexical Information in Regional Accent Perception ...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <>

Date: 21-Jan-2014
From: Erica Beck <>
Subject: The Role of Socio-indexical Information in Regional Accent Perception by Five to Seven Year Old Children
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Institution: University of Michigan
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Erica Beck

Dissertation Title: The Role of Socio-indexical Information in Regional Accent Perception by Five to Seven Year Old Children

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Dissertation Director:
Carmel O'Shannessy
Susan Gelman
Robin Queen
Marlyse Baptista

Dissertation Abstract:

This study examines whether five-seven-year-old children's awareness of
regional variation influences their perception of regional phonological
variation. It also examines the role exposure to variation plays in the
development of perception and awareness in young children. Participants
were 66 children aged 5-7 years, all raised in the same town near
Philadelphia, USA. The participants included monolingual, bilingual and
bi-dialectal children, as well as children speaking a minority ethnolect. A
comparison of results from each of these groups provides information on how
early exposure to different kinds of social variation influences perception
of regional variation at this age.

The first task of the study was an ABX task, testing children's ability to
discriminate between accents acoustically, with no reference to accents or
geography. The second task was also a discrimination task, but encouraged
children to consider the socioindexical meaning of the accents during
discrimination, by asking participants to choose the speaker who sounded
most similar to their own speech. The stimuli used in these two tasks
contrasted the local regional accent of the children's hometown with an
unfamiliar regional accent, Southern U.S. English. The third task of the
study was the Awareness Task, which comprised of a series of questions
assessing children's awareness about regional variation and their ability
to identify the specific accents used in the study.

The results of the two discrimination tasks were analyzed for correlations
with responses to the Awareness Task. In addition, extensive background
data on each subject's language and family residential history was
collected and analyzed for effects on their responses to the three
experimental tasks.

The results of the study show that 5-7 year old children from all language
backgrounds represented in this study reliably discriminate between
regional accents of their native language. The results of the Awareness
Task indicate that they are forming a general understanding of the social
meaning of regional variation: the majority are able to identify the
regional accent of their hometown, and half can identify the unfamiliar
accent as non-local. Furthermore, approximately 40% of subjects correctly
attribute the difference between the stimuli speakers to regional
variation. The awareness represented by responses to these questions show
varying patterns of correlations with responses to the discrimination
tasks, depending on the child's native dialect, ethnolect or language.
Taken together, this study shows that regional variation is perceptually
salient to five- and six-year-old children and that they are developing the
ability to interpret regional variation for social meaning about speakers.
Furthermore, language background is shown to not have an effect on the
ability to discriminate between accents nor on overall awareness of
regional variation in their hometown for children at this age.

Page Updated: 22-Jan-2014