Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology (MA)

Degree Level



Psychological Science


Douglas A. Behrend

Committee Member

James M. Lampinen

Second Committee Member

William H. Levine


Accent, Development, Dialect, Language, Language Development, Social Preferences


Recent research suggests that young children are capable of distinguishing between phonetically dissimilar spoken accents, yet have difficulty distinguishing between phonetically similar accents (Wagner, Clopper, & Pate, 2013). The present study aimed to determine whether the presence of dialect-specific vocabulary enhances young children’s ability to categorize speakers. Participants completed four training trials in which they were familiarized with photos of two children: one of whom used American English labels for test objects and one of whom used British English labels. After training trials, participants completed eight test trials in which they were asked to infer which target child would use either British or American English labels to describe novel test objects. After all test trials were completed, participants were asked to select which target child they would prefer to ask for the name of an unfamiliar object. Participants were also asked to select which target child they would rather play a game with.

Participants of all ages were significantly able to correctly categorize speakers based on whether they used dialect specific vocabulary that was familiar or unfamiliar to the participant. Participants showed a significant preference for the target child who used American dialect words. Participants also significantly trusted the American English-speaking target child over the British English-speaking target child to have the correct name for the unknown object. Neither categorization success, preference, nor selective trust differed significantly by age. These interesting results suggest that, when accent differences are too subtle for children to categorize speakers, dialect-specific vocabulary may enhance young children’s ability to categorize a speaker. The results of the preference and selective trust questions suggest that children as young as four years use their knowledge of a speaker’s vocabulary to guide their preferred social interactions, choosing to interact with others who speak similarly to them.