Corinne Dahbour
Senior Thesis
Saint Anselm College

Children's Social Perceptions and Attitudes Toward Others:  Sensitivity to Dialect Differences


     Much of the social dialect literature has served as models for the investigation of sociolinguistic awareness, specifically in terms of attitude and speech identification.  The purpose of the present study was to examine the role standard and nonstandard speech serves with young children and to determine in what ways children from diverse backgrounds might react to dialect differences.  The study consisted of 46, 8 and 9 year olds from two diverse communities and utilized a self-devised attitude and preference survey.  Based on the results, children are sensitive to speech differences.  Findings also revealed children from diverse communities to differ in their preference for the representative speakers of two dialects.  Possible applications of the findings of this study concern the applying what is found about children's language awareness to educational settings.


     The subjects for this study were drawn from different populations.  The participants of Sample A were 24 children with a mean age of 8.01.  They were third graders at a public elementary school that is located in Southern New Hampshire.  A public elementary school from Northeastern Massachusetts were asked to be part of this research from which the participants of Sample B were chosen.  They were a group of 22 children in the third grade with a mean age of 7.92.  The reason for selecting two samples from different communities was an effort to measure the attitudes of two diverse groups.  The participants were exposed to two prerecorded speech samples: standard and nonstandard English.  A self-devised attitude survey and social preference survey were then administered to the two groups to illicit the children's attitudes and preferences toward the speakers of standard and nonstandard English.


     A separate 2(gender) x 2(voice) mixed analysis of variance (ANOVA) were conducted for the eight Attitude Questionnaire scales (i.e. intelligent, dumb, handsome, ugly, friendly, mean, rich, and poor).  In general, the children's responses followed a clear pattern:  the positive qualities (intelligent, handsome, friendly, rich) were highly attributed to the standard English-speaking Voice 1.  In contrast, the negative qualities (dumb, ugly, mean, poor) were highly attributed to nonstandard Voice 2.
     A series of 2(school) x 2(preference) Chi-squares were conducted for the five voice preference questions. The results revealed children from Sample A, Goffstown, to prefer standard English-speaking Voice 1.  Children from Sample B, Haverhill, were more likely to prefer nonstandard English-speaking Voice 2.

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