Children's Developing Awareness of Regional Accents

Principal Investigator
Dr Ella Jeffries and Dr Laurel Lawyer

How do children understand regional accents?

Does this understanding contribute to the development of social judgements?

Many important sociolinguistic skills are developing in pre-school children. They use variation in their production, which demonstrates their learning of the pronunciation norms of their speech community. We are interested in how these variations are perceived by children and how they might lead to the development of social judgements about speakers based on their accent.

Our findings

Work by Dr Ella Jeffries has found that children from the age of 3 are able to categorise speakers based on their accent. Furthermore, children who were exposed to more variation in their linguistic input (as measured by the local vs. non-local status of their parents) were better at grouping speakers according to phonological regional variables. Leading on from these findings, the following questions need to be addressed:

We ask...
  • What are children’s implicit and explicit social judgements about speakers with different accents (native vs. non-native, local vs. non-local)?
  • Do these judgements change through childhood?
  • Are these judgements affected by home region and the children’s linguistic background (their exposure to and experience of other languages/accents)?

What next?

In collaboration with Dr Laurel Lawyer, the question of implicit social judgements will be investigated using experimental methods involving measuring children’s neural activity in the form of event-related brain potentials (ERPs), using electroencephalography (EEG), while they take part in an adapted Implicit Association Test.

The answers to these questions will further our awareness of how children’s social judgements about speakers with different accents arise. More broadly, an underlying aim of the research is to demonstrate a need for a public awareness of the messages we send to children, for example through the use of different accents to represent stereotyped characteristics of cartoon characters in television programmes.

Get in touch
Centre for Research in Language Development throughout the Lifespan (LaDeLi) University of Essex
Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ
Telephone: 01206 872083