Little Timmy can already identify foreigners.
There is an interesting new study from the University of British Columbia on infant babies’ ability to distinguish, and link, different races and languages. According to UBC (my emphasis):
Eleven-month-old infants can learn to associate the language they hear with ethnicity, recent research from the University of British Columbia suggests.
The study, conducted in Vancouver and published in April in Developmental Psychobiology, found that 11-month-old infants looked more at the faces of people of Asian descent versus those of Caucasian descent when hearing Cantonese versus English—but not when hearing Spanish. . . .
We wanted to determine whether the association between Cantonese language and Asian faces we observed was due to a specific pairing infants learn from their environment, or whether infants may just have a bias to pair together any unfamiliar language with any unfamiliar ethnicity. We conducted a second study where we played English-learning, Caucasian infants sentences of English and Spanish and showed them the same pictures of Caucasian and Asian faces. Here, we found that infants looked similarly to faces of both ethnicities with both languages. Taken together, this would suggest that infants are indeed picking up on specific language-ethnicity pairings, likely based upon those faces and languages they encounter. . . .
The link between speaker characteristics and language is something no one has to teach babies. They learn it all on their own.
One of the study’s authors rightly remarks: “Babies are really discerning.” She goes on to add the results “should comfort parents in letting them know that babies who grow up in a multicultural, multilingual society such as Vancouver learn about that diversity and use it to help—rather than hinder—their language acquisition.”
Certainly, there is no doubt a diverse multilingual environment is good for children’s language acquisition. However, I was more struck by another one of the study’s possible implications: that human beings are hard-wired, virtually from birth, to distinguish between races (visible physical differences reflecting different genetic populations) and languages. Read more