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Babies raised in homes where they hear one language spoken with different accents recognize words dramatically differently at about 12 months than babies who hear little variation in accent, a new study suggests.
“Variability in children’s language input, what they hear and how they hear it, can have important consequences on word recognition…”
The findings point to the importance of considering the effects of multiple accents when studying speech development and suggest that monolingual infants should not be viewed as a single group.
“This is important if you think about clinical settings where children are tested,” says Marieke van Heugten, an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University at Buffalo and lead author of the study that appears in Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
“Speech language pathologists [in most of North America] typically work with the local variant of English, but if you have a child growing up in an environment with more than one accent then they might recognize words differently than a child who hears only one accent,” she says.
Although extensive research exists on bilingualism, few studies have taken accents into account when looking at early word recognition in monolingualism.Van Heugten says none have explored the issue of accents in children younger than 18 months, the age when they traditionally develop the ability to recognize pronunciation differences that can occur across identical words.
“Variability in children’s language input, what they hear and how they hear it, can have important consequences on word recognition in young, monolingual children,” she says.
For instance, an American-English speaking parent might call the yellow vehicle that takes children to school a “bus,” while the pronunciation of the same word by an Irish-English speaking parent might sound more like “boss.” The parents are referencing the same object, but because the child hears the word pronounced two ways she needs to learn how to map those different pronunciations to the same object.