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Impact of associative word learning on phonotactic processing in 6-month-old infants: A combined EEG and fNIRS study

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Obrig,  Hellmuth
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Clinic for Cognitive Neurology, University of Leipzig, Germany;

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Vignotto,  Micol
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

Rossi,  Sonja
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department of Medical Psychology, Innsbruck Medical University, Austria;

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Citation

Obrig, H., Mock, J., Stephan, F., Richter, M., Vignotto, M., & Rossi, S. (2017). Impact of associative word learning on phonotactic processing in 6-month-old infants: A combined EEG and fNIRS study. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 25, 185-197. doi:10.1016/j.dcn.2016.09.001.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-B767-B
Abstract
During early language development native phonotactics are acquired in a ‘bottom-up’ fashion, relying on exquisite auditory differentiation skills operational from birth. Since basic lexico-semantic abilities have been demonstrated from 6 months onwards, ‘top-down’ influences on phonotactic learning may complement the extraction of transitional probabilities in phonotactic learning. Such a bidirectional acquisition strategy predicts, that familiarization with (proto)words should affect processing of untrained word-forms of similar phonological structure. We investigated 6-month-old infants undergoing an associative training to establish a pseudoword-pseudoobject link. Comparison between pre- and post-training responses to trained and untrained items allowed investigating training effects. Additionally phonotactic status (50% legal, 50% illegal with regard to German) allowed investigating influences of previous language experience. EEG and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) provided measures of electrophysiological and hemodynamic responses. We find evidence for a robust effect of associative training on pseudoword processing when presented in isolation. This transferred to untrained items. Previous linguistic experience showed a much weaker effect. Taken together the results suggest that sensitivity to phonotactic contrasts is present at 6 months, but that acceptance as lexical candidates is rapidly modulated when word forms following non-native phonotactics become potentially meaningful due to repeated exposure in a semantic context.