Children prefer to engage with people who sound and speak like them

25 March 2021

Jessica Spence, PhD scholar from the UQ School of Psychology, spoke to The Academic Times about meta-analysis that examined children's linguistic-based social preferences.

Young children respond best to other people who speak with the same accent, dialect or language as themselves, even if they grow up multilingual and exposed to a diverse language environment, according to a new meta-analysis of international studies.

In a paper published in Child Development, researchers conducted the first meta-analysis of literature on infants and children's linguistic-based preferences, encompassing 38 studies. The authors found that infants and children overall prefer to engage with peers and adults who speak and sound like they do from early in their development, which was consistent with the majority of prior research.

Jessica Spence, a PhD candidate at The University of Queensland and lead author of the paper, told The Academic Times that children who grow up only speaking one language in relatively homogenous, Western cultures are usually the ones thought to have biases about accents and dialects.

But Spence was motivated to investigate whether children from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds exhibit preferences for those who speak like them, and she ultimately determined that bilingual children displayed just as much preference for speakers of their own linguistic variety as monolingual children did, if not more.

Bilingualism likely affects children's social preferences by allowing them to identify with multiple linguistic-based in-groups, and fostering opportunities for them to become accepting of people in other social groups, according to the paper.

"In particular, switching between two languages facilitates exposure to different cultural worlds, leaving bilinguals better equipped than monolinguals to understand individuals of diverse social groups and to cope with differences," the authors said.

But when choosing between native and non-native speakers, both monolingual and bilingual children in the analysed studies displayed significant native-speaker preference; and this effect appeared to be stronger for bilingual children.

Read the full story on The Academic Times