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The Development of Language Constancy: Attention to Native Versus Nonnative Accents


  • This research was supported by funding from Australian Research Council Discovery Grant DP0772441 and a University of Western Sydney International Research Initiatives Scheme (80314). We thank Denis Burnham for encouraging the collaboration, and the mothers and babies and research assistants who helped with the studies.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Christine Kitamura, MARCS BabyLab, Building 1, Bankstown Campus, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, PENRITH SOUTH DC NSW 1797. Electronic mail may be sent to


The time frame for infants' acquisition of language constancy was probed, using the phonetic variation in a rarely heard accent (South African English) or a frequently heard accent (American English). A total of 156 Australian infants were tested. Six-month-olds looked longer to Australian English than less commonly heard South African accent, but at 9 months, showed similar looking times. With the more frequently heard American accent, 3-month-olds looked longer to Australian and American English, whereas 6-month-olds looked equally. Together these results imply that in the 1st year, differential attention to native versus nonnative accents decreases as infants develop a sense of language constancy for the common native language. However, experience with the nonnative accent can expedite this process.

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