Purpose: Research has shown that accent variation can affect typically developing (TD) children's understanding of language, as well as that of children with speech difficulties, neuro-typical adults and those with aphasia and dementia. This study aims to investigate the effect of regional native accents on sentence comprehension in children with language impairment (LI), an area not previously explored.
Method: Forty-three children with LI (mean age 6.04) and forty-five younger TD children (mean age 4.10), matched on a measure of sentence comprehension, completed a sentence comprehension task spoken in three regional accents. Instructions were spoken in the children's local Irish accent, a neutral-Irish accent and an unfamiliar Northern-Irish (NI) accent. Instructions were adapted from the Token Test and were matched on syllable length and complexity.
Result: The two groups performed similarly overall on the task. Children had significantly greater difficulty understanding instructions spoken in the NI accent than in either of the other two accents. The ability to process accent variation was significantly associated with receptive language and phonological short term memory ability.
Conclusions: Variation in regional accents may be negatively impacting the performance of children on language comprehension assessments. Potential effects on diagnostic or clinical decisions will require further exploration.