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  Tracking complex rules in language: Εlectrophysiological data from preschoolers

Kandia, D., Friederici, A. D., Villringer, A., & Männel, C. (2020). Tracking complex rules in language: Εlectrophysiological data from preschoolers. Poster presented at 12th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language, Online.

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Kandia, Dimitra1, 2, 3, Author              
Friederici, Angela D.4, Author              
Villringer, Arno1, 3, Author              
Männel, Claudia1, 4, 5, Author              
1Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_634549              
2International Max Planck Research School NeuroCom, ou_persistent22              
3Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin, ou_persistent22              
4Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_persistent22              
5Department of Audiology and Phoniatrics Charité–University Medicine Berlin, ou_persistent22              


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 Abstract: Processing of complex relationships in the auditory input lies in the core of higher cognitive functions. Complex regularities can involve nested dependencies between linguistic elements, as an essential feature of human syntax. Recent electrophysiological evidence suggests that even preverbal infants can track nested dependencies in simple tone sequences, but this remains unexplored for the linguistic domain. For the processing of simpler dependencies, upon which nested dependencies are built, a developmental change across early childhood has been reported. This change showed a decline in dependency learning under passive listening conditions and was found to be modulated by individual differences in children’s basic auditory processing. Whether a similar developmental pattern applies for the processing of nested linguistic dependencies across preschool years has not been examined so far. The current event-related potential (ERP) study examined nested dependencies during preschool age and studied the relation between children’s dependency processing and their pitch discrimination abilities. Importantly, we here implemented nested dependencies in linguistic stimuli, as opposed to the non-linguistic stimuli used in previous infant studies. To this end, we employed a passive-listening oddball paradigm with 2- to 4-year-old children (N = 36). The stimuli comprised standard syllable sequences (83% of trials) that followed nested dependency rules of the form [A1 [A2 C B2] B1], such that the syllable in the A1 position predicted the syllable in the B1 position, the syllable in the A2 position the syllable in B2 position, while the syllable in the central position remained identical across trials. Deviant syllable sequences either violated the expected nested dependency (8.5% of trials), by reversing the position of the two final syllables, or the expectedly applied pitch on the fourth syllable (8.5% of trials). Differential ERP responses to both deviant types as compared to the standard stimuli would indicate successful processing of the linguistic nested rules and reveal whether rule processing is modulated by pitch discrimination abilities. ERP results showed children’s differential brain responses to the syllables, where either the nested rule or the pitch was violated, compared to the standard sequences. While the rule effect in the ERP was not modulated by children’s age, it was predicted by the pitch effect, with larger pitch discrimination predicting larger rule detection responses. Together these findings indicate that across preschool years, children are able to process nested relations in linguistic stimuli under passive listening, modulated by their basic auditory discrimination. This implies that enhanced auditory abilities may provide children with an advantage in the encoding of complex linguistic structures during early language acquisition.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2020-06-052020-06-102020-07-062020-08-252020-10-21
 Publication Status: Published online
 Pages: -
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: Internal
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 Degree: -


Title: 12th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language
Place of Event: Online
Start-/End Date: 2020-10-21 - 2020-10-24

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