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Nature. 1994 Jul 28;370(6487):292-5.

Speed and cerebral correlates of syllable discrimination in infants.

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Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, University of Oregon, Eugene 97405.


The remarkable linguistic abilities of human neonates are well documented. Young infants can discriminate phonemes even if they are not used in their native language, an ability which regresses during the first year of life. This ability to discriminate is often studied by repeating a stimulus for several minutes until some behavioural response of the infant habituates, and later examining whether the response recovers when the stimulus is changed. This method, however, does not reveal how fast infants can detect phonetic changes, nor what brain mechanisms are involved. We describe here high-density recordings of event-related potentials in three-month-old infants listening to syllables whose first consonants differed in place of articulation. Two processing stages, corresponding to an increasingly refined analysis of the auditory input, were identified and localised to the temporal lobes. A late frontal response to novelty was also observed. The infant brain recognizes a phonetic change in less than 400 ms.

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