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Poster E5, Friday, November 10, 10:00 – 11:15 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Early specialization of phonological and semantic processing in 5- to 6-year-old children

Yael Weiss1, James R Booth1;1University of Texas at Austin

Previous studies in older children and adults have investigated specialization for different components of language processing, but this has not been established in young children. Using fMRI, this project examined early specialization of different brain regions for phonological and semantic processing in 5- to 6-year-old children. This project has the potential to advance our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying language acquisition in early childhood, while also laying the groundwork for future investigations of language impairment in this age range. Children (5.5-6.5 year-olds, N=42) were given sound and meaning judgments at the word level. In the semantic task, children determined whether two sequentially presented auditory words (i.e. “truck – car”; “flower – phone”) were related in their meaning. In the phonological task, children determined whether two sequentially presented auditory one-syllable words (i.e. “sit – fit”; “duck – hat”) shared a sound (onset or rhyme). Based on literature in older children and adults, we predicted that a direct comparison of semantic and phonological related tasks should reveal greater activation for meaning judgments in left middle temporal (MTG) as well as ventral inferior frontal gyrus (vIFG) and for sound judgments in left superior temporal gyrus/inferior parietal lobule (STG/IPL) as well as dorsal inferior frontal gyrus (dIFG). As predicted, sound judgments showed greater activation in the left IPL, whereas meaning judgments showed greater activation in the left MTG, suggesting early specialization of phonological and semantic processing. There were no task differences in the IFG, suggesting that frontal cortex is not yet specialized in this age range, which is consistent with the delayed maturation of the frontal cortex. In general, the results of this study indicate that by the age of 5-6-year-old, typically developed children already show some specialization of different brain regions for phonological and semantic processes.

Topic Area: Language Development

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