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Slide Slam H10

When dogs make meow: an electrophysiological exploration of onomatopoeia processing in toddlers

Slide Slam Session H, Wednesday, October 6, 2021, 6:00 - 8:00 am PDT Log In to set Timezone

Mirella Manfredi1, Moritz Daum1,2; 1Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland, 2Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development, University of Zurich, Switzerland

The goal of this study was to investigate cross-modal lexical-semantic processing at different stages of language development. Adults often communicate with children by using infant-directed speech that typically involves speech prosody, lexical and syntactic modifications (Soderstrom, 2007). The lexical modifications frequently include Onomatopoeia, which phonetically imitates sounds or suggests the source of described sounds. Researchers found that Onomatopoeias are very common in 8- to 16-month-old infant’s production repertoire and that they usually decrease in terms of relative proportions between 16 and 20 months of age, along with an increase of other word categories, including common nouns (Camaioni and Longobardi, 1995). In this work, we investigated whether different types of lexical information carrying the same meaning (Onomatopoeias, Common nouns) engage similar or different semantic processing and whether they change with increasing age. In addition, we analyzed how different types of lexical information are tied to the object they refer to and whether cross-modal semantic processing is affected by the type of lexical information. We recorded event-related potentials to onomatopoeic utterances and common nouns associated with pictures of familiar objects in children from two age groups: 16 to 20 months and 24 to 30 months (n = 20, respectively). In addition, we included an adult comparison group. Brain activity was measured during the presentation of the four conditions: in the congruent Common Noun condition, the auditory word matched the content of the image; in the Incongruent Common noun condition, the auditory word did not match the image; in the Congruent Onomatopoeia condition, an onomatopoeia word matched the image; in Incongruent Onomatopoeia condition the onomatopoeia did not match the image. The younger group of children revealed a greater posterior N400 to incongruent onomatopoeic words than to congruent ones. No N400 differences were observed in response to common nouns. This result suggests that the onomatopoeic utterance was more strongly associated to the meaning of the object at an earlier stage of language development. The older group of children showed a greater N400 to incongruent common nouns compared to congruent ones and no difference in the N400 between congruent and incongruent onomatopoeic words. This result was in line with previous studies that revealed that at this stage children associate pictures of known objects with their correct name (Friedrich and Friederici, 1998) and replace the onomatopoeic utterance with the common noun associated with the meaning of a given object. Furthermore, adults revealed an N400 to both incongruent onomatopoeic words and common nouns, showing that they were able to process both the two lexical forms associated with the representation of a visual object. Overall, our results revealed different N400 effects for onomatopoeic utterances and common nouns across the different age groups. This suggests that these categories are differently organized in children’s semantic memory and that the acquisition of linguistic abilities affects and modifies semantic processing of different lexical information.

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