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Preschoolers are sensitive to accent distance

  • Drew WEATHERHEAD (a1), Ori FRIEDMAN (a2) and Katherine S. WHITE (a2)


Can children tell how different a speaker's accent is from their own? In Experiment 1 (N = 84), four- and five-year-olds heard speakers with different accents and indicated where they thought each speaker lived relative to a reference point on a map that represented their current location. Five-year-olds generally placed speakers with stronger accents (as judged by adults) at more distant locations than speakers with weaker accents. In contrast, four-year-olds did not show differences in where they placed speakers with different accents. In Experiment 2 (N = 56), the same sentences were low-pass filtered so that only prosodic information remained. This time, children judged which of five possible aliens had produced each utterance, given a reference speaker. Children of both ages showed differences in which alien they chose based on accent, and generally rated speakers with foreign accents as more different from their native accent than speakers with regional accents. Together, the findings show that preschoolers perceive accent distance, that children may be sensitive to the distinction between foreign and regional accents, and that preschoolers likely use prosody to differentiate among accents.


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*Corresponding Author: Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, 2329 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z4. E-mail:


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Preschoolers are sensitive to accent distance

  • Drew WEATHERHEAD (a1), Ori FRIEDMAN (a2) and Katherine S. WHITE (a2)


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