Developmental Science

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Volume 8 Issue 2 (March 2005), Pages 103-209

Brain potentials to native and non‐native speech contrasts in 7‐ and 11‐month‐old American infants (pages 162-172)


Behavioral data establish a dramatic change in infants’ phonetic perception between 6 and 12 months of age. Foreign‐language phonetic discrimination significantly declines with increasing age. Using a longitudinal design, we examined the electrophysiological responses of 7‐ and 11‐month‐old American infants to native and non‐native consonant contrasts. Analyses of the event‐related potentials (ERP) of the group data at 7 and at 11 months of age demonstrated that infants’ discriminatory ERP responses to the non‐native contrast are present at 7 months of age but disappear by 11 months of age, consistent with the behavioral data reported in the literature. However, when the same infants were divided into subgroups based on individual ERP components, we found evidence that the infant brain remains sensitive to the non‐native contrast at 11 months of age, showing differences in either the P150–250 or the N250–550 time window, depending upon the subgroup. Moreover, we observed an increase in infants’ responsiveness to native language consonant contrasts over time. We describe distinct neural patterns in two groups of infants and suggest that their developmental differences may have an impact on language development.

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