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Speaker familiarity modulates neural signatures of lexical-semantic processing in monolingual infants

Poster B101 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Clarissa Montgomery1, Bahia Guellaï2, Pia Rämä1; 1Integrative Neuroscience and Cognition Centre (UMR 8002), Université Paris Cité & CNRS, 2Laboratoire Cognition, Langues, Langage, Ergonomie (UMR 5263), Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès & CNRS

Developmental language studies have shown evidence of a lexical-semantic network in infants as young as 18-24 months (Wojcik, 2018). Other studies have shown that familiar voices may facilitate infant word comprehension in a picture-word paradigm (Parise & Csibra, 2012). However, little is known about whether voice familiarity could influence lexical-semantic processing of spoken words in the infant brain. We recorded the brain activity of thirty 18-month-old French-learning infants using electroencephalography (EEG) while they listened to auditory recordings of words spoken by one voice with which they were familiar, and one voice with which they were not familiar. Infants were familiarized with one voice for the seven days leading up to the experiment, through a procedure in which parents presented their children with audio-recordings of stories spoken by one of the two possible voices. Stimuli were presented in a semantic priming paradigm, with audio-recordings of 20 words played in both taxonomically related and unrelated pairs. All infants heard related and unrelated pairs spoken by a familiar and an unfamiliar voice. We examined event-related potentials (ERPs) to determine whether the familiar voice facilitated access to the lexical-semantic network for 18-month-old infants. In particular, we measured the N400 - a negative-going ERP at around 300-500 ms post target word onset that is commonly observed for semantic incongruences, thereby indicating access to the lexical-semantic network (Kutas & Federmeier, 2011; Junge et al., 2021). We expected to observe a larger N400 effect (greater amplitudes for unrelated than related word pairs) for familiar as opposed to unfamiliar voices. Our results showed an N400 effect over the left hemisphere, only for the familiar voice. Additionally, for unfamiliar voices, we observed a congruence effect - that is, more negativity for related than for unrelated target words. The N400 effect was obtained only for familiar voices, providing favourable evidence for our hypothesis that familiar voices facilitate access to the lexical-semantic network. The congruence effect that we found for unfamiliar voices has been observed in previous studies with younger infants (Friedrich & Friederici, 2005) and in infants with a familial risk for dyslexia (Von Koss Torkildsen, 2007). This suggests that it might be a less mature neural signature of lexical-semantic activation than the N400. We are currently conducting an experiment with 14-month-olds to explore whether voice familiarity facilitates word comprehension in even younger infants.

Topic Areas: Language Development/Acquisition, Meaning: Lexical Semantics

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