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Nature. 1997 Jan 30;385(6615):432-4.

Language-specific phoneme representations revealed by electric and magnetic brain responses.

Author information

1
Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland. risto.naatanen@helsinki.fi

Abstract

There is considerable debate about whether the early processing of sounds depends on whether they form part of speech. Proponents of such speech specificity postulate the existence of language-dependent memory traces, which are activated in the processing of speech but not when equally complex, acoustic non-speech stimuli are processed. Here we report the existence of these traces in the human brain. We presented to Finnish subjects the Finnish phoneme prototype /e/ as the frequent stimulus, and other Finnish phoneme prototypes or a non-prototype (the Estonian prototype /õ/) as the infrequent stimulus. We found that the brain's automatic change-detection response, reflected electrically as the mismatch negativity (MMN), was enhanced when the infrequent, deviant stimulus was a prototype (the Finnish /ö/) relative to when it was a non-prototype (the Estonian /õ/). These phonemic traces, revealed by MMN, are language-specific, as /õ/ caused enhancement of MMN in Estonians. Whole-head magnetic recordings located the source of this native-language, phoneme-related response enhancement, and thus the language-specific memory traces, in the auditory cortex of the left hemisphere.

PMID:
9009189
DOI:
10.1038/385432a0
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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