Does intra-uterine language experience modulate word stress processing? An ERP study.


Department of Cognitive Psychology, Eötvös Loránd University, Izabella utca 46., H-1064, Budapest, Hungary. Electronic address: [Email]


BACKGROUND : Preterm birth is associated with various risks, including delayed or atypical language development. The prenatal start of prosodic tuning may affect the processing of word stress, an important suprasegmental feature of spoken utterances.
OBJECTIVE : Our study focused on the expected contribution of intra-uterine experience to word stress processing. We aimed to demonstrate the hypothesized effect of intra-uterine sound exposition on stress sensitivity.
METHODS : We recorded ERP responses of 34 preterm infants elicited by bisyllabic pseudo-words in two oddball conditions by switching the stress pattern (legal vs. illegal) and role (standard vs. deviant).
RESULTS : The mismatch responses found were synchronized to each syllable of the illegally stressed stimuli with no difference between pre- and full-term infants. However, the clear role of the preterm status was demonstrated by the exaggerated processing of the native stress information. The impact of intra-uterine exposure to prosody was confirmed by our finding that moderate-late preterm infants outperformed the very preterm ones.
CONCLUSIONS : Intra-uterine exposition to prosodic features appears to contribute to the emergence of stable long-term stress representation. When this tuning is missing it is considered a risk for the language acquisition process.


MMR,Maturity status,Preterm infants,Stress processing,

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