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The effect of accent exposure on children’s sociolinguistic evaluation of peers

Paquette-Smith, Melissa; Buckler, Helen; White, Katherine; Choi, Jiyoun; Johnson, Elizabeth K.


Melissa Paquette-Smith

Katherine White

Jiyoun Choi

Elizabeth K. Johnson


Language and accent strongly influence the formation of social groups. By five years of age, children already show strong social preferences for peers who speak their native language with a familiar accent (Kinzler, Shutts, DeJesus, & Spelke, 2009). However, little is known about the factors that modulate the strength and direction of children’s accent-based group preferences. In three experiments, we examine the development of accent-based friendship preferences in children growing up in Toronto, one of the world’s most linguistically and culturally diverse cities. We hypothesized that the speaker’s type of accent and the amount of accent exposure children experienced in their everyday lives would modulate their preferences in a friend selection task. Despite literature suggesting that exposure leads to greater acceptance (Allport, 1954), we find no evidence that routine exposure to different accents leads to greater acceptance of unfamiliarly accented speakers. Children still showed strong preferences for peers who spoke with the locally dominant accent, despite growing up in a linguistically diverse community. However, children’s preference for Canadian-accented in-group members was stronger when they were paired with non native (Korean-accented) speakers compared to when they were paired with regional (British-accented) speakers. We propose that children’s ability to perceptually distinguish between accents may have contributed to this difference. Children showed stronger preferences for in-group members when the difference between accents was easier to perceive. Overall, our findings suggest that although the strength of accent-based social preferences can be modulated by the type of accent, these preferences still persist in the face of significant diversity in children’s accent exposure.


Paquette-Smith, M., Buckler, H., White, K., Choi, J., & Johnson, E. K. (2019). The effect of accent exposure on children’s sociolinguistic evaluation of peers. Developmental Psychology, 55(4), 809-822.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 10, 2018
Online Publication Date Jan 24, 2019
Publication Date Jan 24, 2019
Deposit Date Nov 22, 2018
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2018
Journal Developmental Psychology
Print ISSN 0012-1649
Publisher American Psychological Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 55
Issue 4
Pages 809-822
Keywords Life-span and Life-course Studies; Developmental and Educational Psychology; Demography
Public URL
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Additional Information As an APA author, you may post the final accepted, pre-formatted version of your manuscript on your personal website, university repository, and author networking sites without an embargo period. To help preserve the integrity of the scientific record, please add the following note to the manuscript you post:

© 2018, American Psychological Association. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the final, authoritative version of the article. Please do not copy or cite without authors' permission. The final article will be available, upon publication, via its DOI: 10.1037/dev0000659


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