Children's Sociolinguistic Evaluations of Nice Foreigners and Mean Americans

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Three experiments investigated 5- to 6-year-old monolingual English-speaking American children's sociolinguistic evaluations of others based on their accent (native, foreign) and social actions (nice, mean, neutral). In Experiment 1, children expressed social preferences for native-accented English speakers over foreign-accented speakers, and they judged the native-accented speakers to be “American.” In Experiments 2 and 3, the accented speakers were depicted as being nicer than the relatively meaner native speakers. Children's social preferences and judgments of others' personalities varied as a function of behavior; in particular, children disliked individuals who committed negative social actions. In contrast, children's judgments of nationality hinged exclusively on accent; across all conditions, children evaluated native-accented English speakers to be “American,” regardless of whether they were nice or mean. These findings contribute to an understanding of the nature of children's reasoning about language as a social category and have implications for future research investigating children's thinking about language as a marker of national group identity.

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