Events

In most countries around the world, infants are exposed to multiple accent and dialectal variants of the native language early in life. This variation in exposure is the result of existing and expanding multicultural contacts (e.g., accessibility to foreign media) and multilingualism, and is relevant for both monolingual and bilingual children across cultures. Early on, children must therefore identify the components of speech that are relevant for language comprehension, and make talker generalizations that allow them to recognize that a word has the same meaning, even when produced by talkers from different dialects. While we know that generalization is a difficult problem in general, little is known about the effects that regionally-driven variations in the speech signal might have on young children’s word-recognition. Languages and dialects have been categorized based on the rhythmical patterns that are used by its speakers, and differentiating between these categories is something that infants learn particularly early (Nazzi et al., 1998). In fact, infants rely on rhythm to accomplish segmentation and to develop word-learning skills (Cutler, 1994). The primary difference among most studied English dialects to date has been in vowel inventories. But Singaporean English is unique, in that it differs from American English in an additional way to vowel quality, that of rhythmic class (Tay, 1982; Ling et al., 2000). I will discuss data from a study designed to examine the extent to which children adjust their perception to an unfamiliar dialect that differs in rhythm, and whether children’s previous linguistic exposure influences their ability to generalize across dialects.