Friday, 9 December 2011

Language trumps race

Young children see language as a more salient factor than race in determining identity, it seems.

A study from the University of Chicago asked groups of children aged 5-6 and 9-10 to do a matching task. They were shown images like the one below and asked which adult the child would grow up to be.
I think you and I would pick the man on the left, as we know that it's fairly likely that a white child will grow up to be a white man, and skin colour changes in later life are relatively rare. OK, he's speaking a different language, but maybe he moved to France or whatever. The 9-10-year-old kids agreed with us and matched the same pair.

But the younger children matched the boy with the black man, who speaks the same language as the child. How odd. Katherine Kinzler, the lead author of the study, says:
From a child’s perspective, language offers many of the characteristics of a biologically determined or inherited category. Children usually speak the same language as their families, and they likely do not remember the time as infants that they spent learning a native language.
They've found that accent and language are really important to kids (which I guess we knew) and this shows that a person's language is even more important than their race to a young child. So, would this be different for black Americans, to whom race is important because they early on have to learn that lots of people are racist bastards? Yes, it would. When groups of black children were given the same test, the younger ones matched according to race, not language, just like the older children. How sad. 

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