Exposure to multiple accents supports infants' understanding of novel accents.

TitleExposure to multiple accents supports infants' understanding of novel accents.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsPotter CE, Saffran JR
Date Published2017 May 26

Accented speech poses a challenge for listeners, particularly those with limited knowledge of their language. In a series of studies, we explored the possibility that experience with variability, specifically the variability provided by multiple accents, would facilitate infants' comprehension of speech produced with an unfamiliar accent. 15- and 18-month-old American-English learning infants were exposed to brief passages of multi-talker speech and subsequently tested on their ability to distinguish between real, familiar words and nonsense words, produced in either their native accent or an unfamiliar (British) accent. Exposure passages were produced in a familiar (American) accent, a single unfamiliar (British) accent or a variety of novel accents (Australian, Southern, Indian). While 15-month-olds successfully recognized real words spoken in a familiar accent, they never demonstrated comprehension of English words produced in the unfamiliar accent. 18-month-olds also failed to recognize English words spoken in the unfamiliar accent after exposure to the familiar or single unfamiliar accent. However, they succeeded after exposure to multiple unfamiliar accents, suggesting that as they get older, infants are better able to exploit the cues provided by variable speech. Increased variability across multiple dimensions can be advantageous for young listeners.

Alternate JournalCognition
PubMed ID28554086