Creel, S. C., Rojo, D. P., & Paullada, A. N. (In press). Effects of contextual support on preschoolers’ accented speech comprehension. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
Young children often hear speech in unfamiliar accents, but relatively little research characterizes their comprehension capacity. The current study tested preschoolers’ comprehension of familiar-accented vs. unfamiliar-accented speech with varying levels of contextual support from sentence frames (full sentences vs. isolated words) and from visual context (four salient pictured alternatives, vs. the absence of salient visual referents). The familiar-accent advantage was more robust when visual context was absent, suggesting that previous findings of good accent comprehension in infants and young children may result from ceiling effects in easier tasks (picture fixation, picture selection) relative to the more-difficult tasks often used with older children and adults. In contrast to prior work on mispronunciations, where most errors were novel-object responses, children in the current study did not select novel-object referents above chance levels. This suggests that some property of accented speech may dissuade children from inferring that an unrecognized familiar-but-accented word has a novel referent. Finally, children showed detectable accent processing difficulty despite presumed incidental community exposure. Results suggest that preschoolers’ accented speech comprehension is still developing, consistent with theories of protracted development of speech processing.