The Development of Perceptual Sociolinguistic Competence throughout the Lifespan
Cynthia Clopper, The Ohio State University, Department of Linguistics
Adults use information in the speech signal to identify properties of their interlocutors, such as where they are from, as well as to make judgments about their interlocutors, such as how intelligent or friendly they are. Children acquire this knowledge about the relationships between speech variation and regional background, along with these stereotypes about the relationships between speech variation and personal qualities, as part of the language acquisition process. The results of a large-scale study exploring children’s and adults’ perception of regional dialect variation in American English demonstrate both acquisition of the fundamental skills underlying adult-like perceptual sociolinguistic competence by preschool-age, as well as protracted continued development of sociolinguistic knowledge and stereotypes into adolescence. In addition, the acquisition of the different component perceptual skills in the domain of sociolinguistic competence develop in tandem throughout childhood, revealing close connections between objective (i.e., geographical) and subjective (i.e., personal attribute) assessments of talkers exhibiting different regional dialects.
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