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Toddlers Respond Better to Local Community Accents Than What Is Spoken at Home: Study

Update Date: Oct 26, 2012 05:03 AM EDT

A new study suggests that infants are more likely to understand and respond to words spoken in a local dialect than those used by their parents or spoken at home.

Through a study at Plymouth University, psychologists reveal that toddlers are more receptive to accents spoken regionally, like the ones spoken in nurseries and playgroups, even if it is very different from the accents in which family members communicate at home.

While the researchers said that the results were expected, it is a good sign as far as preservation of linguistic diversity in the future generations is concerned.

"It might widely, and understandably, be assumed that toddlers pick up their early grasp of language and pronunciation from their parents. But this research shows their social context is much more important than people might think, even at such an early age. Studies have shown that once they reach the age of five, children are more likely to speak with the accents they are surrounded by at school, but this is the first time it has been shown to apply to much younger children," lead author of the study Dr Caroline Floccia, an associate professor in the University's School of Psychology, said.

The study analyzed a database involving about 3,000 children from the Plymouth area.

For the current study, researchers presented 20-month-old toddlers with pictures of familiar objects, and studied their reaction and responses when the object's name was pronounced in either rhotic or non-rhotic accents (English is rhotic when people pronounce the 'r' in farm), Medical Xpress reported.

The children who participated in the study belonged to many families who spoke in the local (rhotic) Plymouth dialect, and there were also children whose parents belonged to other places in the UK. Some of the families communicated in two different accents regularly.

In all cases, the researchers found that infants were more responsive to the local accents spoken by the community around them, rather than the ones spoken by their respective families.

"Although infants still spend the majority of their time with their parents, they tend to be influenced more by settings where there are other children present. But regional dialects are something people should definitely be proud of and linguistic diversity makes our everyday environment a much more interesting place to be," Dr Floccia, who manages the Babylab as well as teaching on the Social and Development Psychology and Contemporary Topics in Psychology courses at Plymouth University, added.

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