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Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2016 Jun;19:164-73. doi: 10.1016/j.dcn.2016.02.009. Epub 2016 Mar 12.

ERP evidence for on-line syntactic computations in 2-year-olds.

Author information

1
Language, Cognition, and Development Laboratory, Scuola Internazional Superiore di Studi Avanzati, Trieste, Italy; Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique (EHESS-ENS-CNRS), Ecole normale supérieure, PSL Research University, Paris, France. Electronic address: pbrusini@gmail.com.
2
INSERM, Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, F91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France; CEA, NeuroSpin Center, F91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France; Université Paris XI, F91405 Orsay, France.
3
Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique (EHESS-ENS-CNRS), Ecole normale supérieure, PSL Research University, Paris, France.
4
AP-HP, Université Paris Descartes, Maternité Port-Royal, France.
5
Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique (EHESS-ENS-CNRS), Ecole normale supérieure, PSL Research University, Paris, France; AP-HP, Université Paris Descartes, Maternité Port-Royal, France.

Abstract

Syntax allows human beings to build an infinite number of sentences from a finite number of words. How this unique, productive power of human language unfolds over the course of language development is still hotly debated. When they listen to sentences comprising newly-learned words, do children generalize from their knowledge of the legal combinations of word categories or do they instead rely on strings of words stored in memory to detect syntactic errors? Using novel words taught in the lab, we recorded Evoked Response Potentials (ERPs) in two-year-olds and adults listening to grammatical and ungrammatical sentences containing syntactic contexts that had not been used during training. In toddlers, the ungrammatical use of words, even when they have been just learned, induced an early left anterior negativity (surfacing 100-400ms after target word onset) followed by a late posterior positivity (surfacing 700-900ms after target word onset) that was not observed in grammatical sentences. This late effect was remarkably similar to the P600 displayed by adults, suggesting that toddlers and adults perform similar syntactic computations. Our results thus show that toddlers build on-line expectations regarding the syntactic category of upcoming words in a sentence.

KEYWORDS:

Evoked potentials; Language acquisition; Syntactic processing; Toddlers

PMID:
27038839
DOI:
10.1016/j.dcn.2016.02.009
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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