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Effects of early language exposure on speech category and speaker identification learning in international adoptees

Poster B106 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port
This poster is part of the Sandbox Series.

Stephanie Deschamps1, Kevin Sitek2, Jen-Kai Chen1, Bharath Chandrasekaran2, Shari Baum1, Denise Klein1; 1McGill University, 2University of Pittsburgh

International adoptees (IA) often experience early but discontinued exposure to their original birth language prior to being adopted and acquiring the language of their new adopted family. Previous research with IA from China has shown that early but discontinued exposure to their birth language, Chinese, can result in maintained neural traces of Chinese phonology despite having no functional knowledge of the language at time of testing (Pierce et al., 2014). Furthermore, evidence is emerging that listeners more accurately identify voices when they can understand the language being spoken. This advantage is believed to depend on listeners’ knowledge of the phonology of the language (Perrachione & Wong, 2007). Here, we build on this work by examining in what ways IA can leverage their early language representations established during infancy to exhibit a re-learning advantage for the perception of their birth language in adulthood. We recruited 3 groups of adult participants: 1) IA from China, who were exposed to Chinese lexical tones during infancy before being adopted into French-speaking families (subsequently discontinuing their birth language for French), 2) French monolinguals (FM) without prior exposure to Chinese tones, and 3) French-Chinese bilinguals. To investigate whether the maintained neural traces of IA’s original birth language provide them with an advantage in the learning of Chinese phonology, we compared the behavioural and fMRI responses of all 3 groups of participants during a Chinese lexical tone categorization task. Participants were asked to categorize auditory stimuli that consisted of monosyllables produced using 4 different lexical tones. Participants received minimal visual feedback after each trial. To explore whether IA’s early experience with Chinese provides them with an advantage in the identification of speakers of their birth language, we compared the behavioural and fMRI responses of the 3 groups during a speaker categorization task. Here, participants were asked to identify 4 male speakers of Chinese producing full sentences, rather than tones in isolation, while receiving trial-by-trial minimal visual feedback. We hypothesized that the IA group would perform more similarly to the French-Chinese bilinguals than to the FM across both tasks. Linear mixed effect modelling of the behavioural data of both tasks did not reveal any global differences between the performances of the IA and the FM group, suggesting no general advantage of early exposure to Chinese phonology during learning. However, preliminary examination of behavioral performance on tone 4 combined with neuroimaging data during the lexical tone categorization task revealed different BOLD activation patterns in the IA and FM groups, suggesting differences in underlying tone learning strategies. Additional analyses are underway to more closely investigate these activation differences. Future directions for the dataset include applying drift diffusion models to identify differences in underlying decision-making processes and evidence accumulation strategies across the three groups. The behavioural and neural activation results will be discussed in the context of theories of language development, the sensitive period hypothesis, and neuroplasticity.

Topic Areas: Language Development/Acquisition, Phonology

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