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Tracking complex rules in language: Preliminary data from an ERP Study with toddlers

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Kandia,  Dimitra
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Friederici,  Angela D.
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Villringer,  Arno
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Fritz,  Thomas Hans
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Männel,  Claudia
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kandia, D., Friederici, A. D., Villringer, A., Fritz, T. H., & Männel, C. (2019). Tracking complex rules in language: Preliminary data from an ERP Study with toddlers. Poster presented at 9th IMPRS NeuroCom Summer School, Leipzig, Germany.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-C65C-6
Abstract
Processing of complex relationships in the auditory input lies in the core of higher cognitive functions, such as language and music. Complex regularities can involve nested dependencies between linguistic elements, as an essential feature of human syntax. In a recent study, preverbal infants were found to already track nested dependencies within simple tone sequences. Moreover, for the processing of simpler dependencies, upon which nested dependencies are built, a developmental shift has been reported during preschool age. Specifically, while children at 2 years were able to track simple dependencies in syllable structures under passive listening, 4-year-olds were only able to do so, when they had advanced auditory processing skills (i.e., pitch discrimination). These developmental differences suggest a general decline of linguistic rule learning under passive listening conditions across early childhood and point towards a modulation of this shift by basic auditory processing abilities. The current event-related potential (ERP) study aims to investigate the described developmental shift for more complex nested dependencies and study the relation of dependency processing to pitch discrimination abilities. Importantly, we here implement the nested dependencies in linguistics 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. The stimuli comprised standard syllable sequences that follow nested dependency rules and deviant syllable sequences that either violate the expected nested dependency or the expectedly applied pitch. We will present preliminary ERP data of children at 2 years of age. We will evaluate children’s mismatch ERP responses to both deviant types compared to the standard stimuli. We expect children to process nested relations in the language input under passive listening, in line with recent evidence showing that infants are already able to track complex nested relations between simple tones. ERP data of older children up to 4 years of age will then reveal whether there is a developmental decrease of the ability to process nested dependencies in syllable sequences and whether this change is modulated by children’s auditory discrimination abilities.