The effect of accent exposure on children’s sociolinguistic evaluation of peers.

Language and accent strongly influence the formation of social groups. By five years of age, children already show strong social preferences for peers who speak their native language with a familiar accent (Kinzler, Shutts, DeJesus, & Spelke, 2009). However, little is known about the factors that modulate the strength and direction of children’s accent-based group preferences. In three experiments, we examine the development of accent-based friendship preferences in children growing up in Toronto, one of the world’s most linguistically and culturally diverse cities. We hypothesized that the speaker’s type of accent and the amount of accent exposure children experienced in their everyday lives would modulate their preferences in a friend selection task. Despite literature suggesting that exposure leads to greater acceptance (Allport, 1954), we find no evidence that routine exposure to different accents leads to greater acceptance of unfamiliarly accented speakers. Children still showed strong preferences for peers who spoke with the locally dominant accent, despite growing up in a linguistically diverse community. However, children’s preference for Canadian-accented in-group members was stronger when they were paired with non native (Korean-accented) speakers compared to when they were paired with regional (British-accented) speakers. We propose that children’s ability to perceptually distinguish between accents may have contributed to this difference. Children showed stronger preferences for in-group members when the difference between accents was easier to perceive. Overall, our findings suggest that although the strength of accent-based social preferences can be modulated by the type of accent, these preferences still persist in the face of significant diversity in children’s accent exposure. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)