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Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2005 Sep;25(1):180-7.

Reduced stress pattern discrimination in 5-month-olds as a marker of risk for later language impairment: neurophysiologial evidence.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, P.O. Box 500 355, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.


The study at hand investigates prosodic abilities of infants as early predictors of Specific Language Impairment (SLI), which is commonly diagnosed at a later age. The study is based on the hypothesis that the prosodic abilities of infants at risk for SLI are less elaborated than those of controls due to less efficient processing of the relevant acoustic cues. One of the most critical prosodic cues for word segmentation is stress pattern. In German as well as in English, the most frequent stress pattern of bisyllabics is the trochee, in which stress is placed on the first syllable. Using a passive oddball design, German 5-month-olds were examined with respect to their ability to discriminate different stress patterns of bisyllabics. Infants were grouped retrospectively based on their production performance at the ages of 12 and 24 months. In contrast to matched controls, infants with very low word production displayed event-related brain potentials with a significantly reduced amplitude of the discrimination response, i.e. a Mismatch Negativity (MMN), to the trochaic stress pattern. This amplitude difference indicates impaired prosodic processing of word stress during early development and may thus be taken as an early marker of risk for SLI.

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