By their second birthday, children are beginning to map meaning to form with relative ease. One challenge for these developing abilities is separating information relevant to word identity (i.e. phonemic information) from irrelevant information (e.g. voice and foreign accent). Nevertheless, little is known about toddlers’ abilities to ignore irrelevant phonetic detail when faced with the demanding task of word learning. In an experiment with English-learning toddlers, we examined the impact of foreign accent on word learning. Findings revealed that while toddlers aged 2; 6 successfully generalized newly learned words spoken by a Spanish-accented speaker and a native English speaker, success of those aged 2;0 was restricted. Specifically, toddlers aged 2;0 failed to generalize words when trained by the native English speaker and tested by the Spanish-accented speaker. Data suggest that exposure to foreign accent in training may promote generalization of newly learned forms. These findings are considered in the context of developmental changes in early word representations.


The article has been accepted for publication and will appear in a revised form, subsequent to peer review and/or editorial input by Cambridge University Press, in published by Cambridge University Press, together with a copyright notice in the name of the copyright holder.

Schmale, R., Hollich, G., Seidl, A. (2011). Contending with foreign accent variability in early lexical acquisition. Journal of Child Language, 38, 1096-1108. And it can be found at the following link: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8394550&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0305000910000619

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