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Int J Psychophysiol. 2010 Jul;77(1):13-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2010.03.011. Epub 2010 Apr 7.

Activation and application of an obligatory phonotactic constraint in German during automatic speech processing is revealed by human event-related potentials.

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Institute of Psychology I, University of Leipzig, Germany.


In auditory speech processing, implicit linguistic knowledge is activated and applied on phonetic and segment-related phonological processing level even if the perceived sound sequence is outside the focus of attention. In this study, the effects of language-specific phonotactic restrictions on pre-attentive auditory speech processing were investigated, using the Mismatch Negativity component of the human event-related brain potential. In German grammar, the distribution of the velar and the palatal dorsal fricative is limited by an obligatory phonotactic constraint, Dorsal Fricative Assimilation, which demands that a vowel and a following dorsal fricative must have the same specifications for articulatory backness. For passive oddball stimulation, we used three phonotactically correct VC syllables and one incorrect VC syllable, composed of the vowels [epsilon] and [open o] and the fricatives [รง] and []. Stimuli were contrasted pairwise in experimental oddball blocks in a way that they differed in regard to their respective vowel but shared the fricative. Additionally to the usual Mismatch Negativity which is attributable to the change of the initial vowel and which was elicited by all deviants, we observed a second negative deflection in the deviant ERP elicited by the phonotactically ill-formed syllable only. This negativity cannot be attributed to any acoustical or phonemic difference between standard and deviant, it rather reflects the effect of a phonotactic evaluation process after both sounds of the syllable were identified. Our finding suggests that implicit phonotactic knowledge is activated and applied even outside the focus of the participants' attention.

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