Dialect variation may also be problematic for infant learners, who have less language experience. However, less is known about how such phonetic variation may impact infant speech perception, particularly word recognition (although, see Best, Tyler, Gooding, Orlando,
& Quann, 2009 for its impact on budding semantic representations). As infants gain experience with their ambient language, they attune to phonetic information that is linguistically relevant. Language experience may also help infants ignore information irrelevant to word identity, such as variation attributable to gender, affect, and accent (foreign and dialectal). From an early age, infants exhibit some ability to deal with irrelevant speaker check details variability. Two-month-olds detect a syllable
change when produced by multiple speakers (Jusczyk, Pisoni, & Mullenix, 1992) and 6-month-olds discriminate a phonetic contrast between vowels, despite variability across speaker age and gender (Kuhl, 1979, 1983). Although infants can cope with linguistically irrelevant variability in sound discrimination, this ability does not translate to word recognition. Indeed, 7.5-month-olds fail to recognize a word when spoken by two speakers with dissimilar voices (e.g., male versus female; Houston & Jusczyk, 2000) and the same word spoken in different affective states (e.g., happy versus neutral; Singh, Morgan, & White, 2004). It is not until learn more 10.5 months that infants ignore irrelevant gender and affect variability MK-8669 cost in word recognition (Houston & Jusczyk, 2000; Singh et al., 2004).
Surprisingly little is known, however, about whether infants can accommodate the linguistically irrelevant variation introduced by dialectal accent when recognizing words in fluent speech. Although infants as young as 5–7 months of age can discriminate different dialectal accents (Kitamura, Panneton, Deihl, & Notley, 2006; Nazzi, Jusczyk, & Johnson, 2000), it is unknown how the aspects that differ across accents impact word recognition. One exception is Schmale and Seidl (2009), where 9- and 13-month-olds were tested on their ability to generalize words from a native speaker of infants’ ambient dialectal accent (North Midland-American English) to a foreign-accented speaker (Spanish-accented English). Results showed that, although the 13-month-olds recognized words across these accents, 9-month-olds failed. The authors suggest that one explanation for this developmental pattern may relate to an increase in the flexibility of infants’ word representations, with older infants being better able to ignore linguistically irrelevant variation introduced by different accents.