Erica Beck successfully defended her dissertation, The Role of Socio-indexical Information in Regional Accent Discrimination by 5-7 Year Old Children, on Sept. 20. 

Congratulations, Dr. Beck!

It has been amply documented that the presence of social information about a speaker can bias speech perception in adults (Niedzielski 1999; Hay, Nolan et al. 2006; Hay, Warren et al. 2006; Staum-Casasanto 2009; Hay and Drager 2010; Hay, Warren et al. 2010) . But there has been little work on how and when children begin to associate socio-indexical information with linguistic variation, and whether any influence of this information can be found on their perception. In a series of three tasks, I examine whether knowledge of social indices influences children’s ability to discriminate between a familiar and unfamiliar regional accent in their native language.  

Sixty-six English-speaking children in Philadelphia aged 5;0-7;0 years were assessed on their meta-linguistic awareness of regional accent and its socio-indices, as well as the amounts of exposure they had to regional variation. Two experiments then tested whether the children could discriminate between a familiar and an unfamiliar regional accent, and whether any evidence of use of social indices in discrimination could be found. Results show that children can discriminate between regional accents, and they draw on socio-indexical information when doing so.  The results also suggest that socio-indexical information is interpretable only for familiar varieties, and isn’t dependent on a generalized understanding of regional variation, or knowledge of a second regional variety. Finally, children’s linguistic background is found to influence how they apply socio-indexical knowledge to the task of discrimination.