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Brain. 2010 Aug;133(Pt 8):2185-95. doi: 10.1093/brain/awq163.

Early and late talkers: school-age language, literacy and neurolinguistic differences.

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Haskins Laboratories, 300 George St, Suite 900, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.


Early language development sets the stage for a lifetime of competence in language and literacy. However, the neural mechanisms associated with the relative advantages of early communication success, or the disadvantages of having delayed language development, are not well explored. In this study, 174 elementary school-age children whose parents reported that they started forming sentences 'early', 'on-time' or 'late' were evaluated with standardized measures of language, reading and spelling. All oral and written language measures revealed consistent patterns for 'early' talkers to have the highest level of performance and 'late' talkers to have the lowest level of performance. We report functional magnetic resonance imaging data from a subset of early, on-time and late talkers matched for age, gender and performance intelligence quotient that allows evaluation of neural activation patterns produced while listening to and reading real words and pronounceable non-words. Activation in bilateral thalamus and putamen, and left insula and superior temporal gyrus during these tasks was significantly lower in late talkers, demonstrating that residual effects of being a late talker are found not only in behavioural tests of oral and written language, but also in distributed cortical-subcortical neural circuits underlying speech and print processing. Moreover, these findings suggest that the age of functional language acquisition can have long-reaching effects on reading and language behaviour, and on the corresponding neurocircuitry that supports linguistic function into the school-age years.

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