abstract Hellmuth Obrig

Hellmuth Obrig (MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences; Clinic for Cognitive Neurology University Hospital, Leipzig, Germany)

Investigating Language Acquisition by Non-Invasive Optical Imaging (fNIRS) and EEG.

Infants acquire language with a surprising speed and efficiency. This requires the extraction of regularities and meaning from the auditory stream of the native language, supplied by their environment. Prior to the acquisition of words (lexico-semantics) and long before infants understand or even produce meaningful sentences (syntax), infants are masters in extracting more basic regularities from the input. Some of these regularities relate to the sound inventory of a given language. Apart from phoneme discrimination and the tuning into the native phonetic inventory, phonotactic regularities may be of relevance during the first steps into language competence. They may ease segmentation of the auditory stream and - in the competent speaker - they ease lexical access. Governing the potential combinations of sounds at different word positions phonotactic rules help to find word boundaries (e.g. the phoneme cluster /MR/ cannot be the onset of a word in English/ German/ Dutch or French whereas /TR/ can). In a number of experiments we have investigated how infants of different ages process different phonotactic regularities (native versus non-native). I will present studies in which we used fNIRS and /or EEG to elucidate the developmental path of phonotactic competence. Additionally I will present studies using NIRS looking at even more basic auditory feature processing and at some aspects of lexico-semantic learning, which are relevant much later in language development. For those who are primarily interested in the basics, potential applications and the pitfalls of near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) I will briefly introduce the technique and I am happy to extend more into detail, depending on the audience’s interest.