Any functional distinction between a language and dialect appears to be largely sociopolitical, and is therefore typically excluded from serious discussions of theoretical linguistics. However, the disassociation between grammatical and sociocultural communicative competence appears to be a false one. Studies of sociophonetic perception reveal that listeners rapidly extract dialect information from the speech stream, consistently relying on learned acoustic markers of group identity. This speaker-independent, pre-attentive categorization process appears to introduce distortions to downstream processing of speech - the presence of sociophonetic markers predicts listener judgements regarding nonlinguistic speaker attributes (i.e. competence). How does the development of sociocultural communicative competence coincide with the acquisition of grammatical knowledge?

In this informal talk I explore the role of metalinguistic evaluation in first language acquisition. I ask the question: is the expression of folk linguistic beliefs and preferences a cognitive universal? How does a language learner acquire both the linguistic behavior and sociolinguistic judgements which are characteristic of the multiple speech communities in which she lives? Lastly, how should a broadened understanding of sociocommunicative development inform the design of language interventions for disadvantaged children?