Prejudicial voices

The Australian has a short item about a new study of newborns and preschools that seems to indicate that linguistic discrimination may be at the root of social prejudice.

US and French researchers have found that the language babies hear spoken in their first six months of life leads to a preference for speakers of that language.

The preference is so entrenched that by age five youngsters prefer playmates who not only speak the same language but do so with the same accent.

They judged the preferences of three groups of children. Five-to six-month-old infants looked at native speakers longer than non-native speakers.

Ten-month-olds selected toys most often from native speakers, and most five-year-olds chose native speaking playmates over children with an accent.

According to Professor Spelke, the most surprising result came from the group’s experiment with five-year-olds. “The findings suggest that (the preference) has nothing to do with information, the semantics of language, but rather with group identity,” she said.

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