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, 67 (2), 131-43

Modulation of the Mismatch Negativity (MMN) to Vowel Duration Changes in Native Speakers of Finnish and German as a Result of Language Experience

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Modulation of the Mismatch Negativity (MMN) to Vowel Duration Changes in Native Speakers of Finnish and German as a Result of Language Experience

Ursula Kirmse et al. Int J Psychophysiol.

Abstract

While crucial for phoneme distinctions in the Finnish language, mere vowel duration is of lower relevance as a phonetically distinctive cue in the German language. To investigate the pre-attentive processing of vowel duration between these two languages, the mismatch negativity (MMN), a component of the auditory event-related potential (ERP) that is an index of automatic auditory change detection, was measured in Finnish and German native speakers for vowel duration changes embedded in the pseudoword sasa. Vowel duration changes thereby were presented as a shortening or a lengthening of either the first- or second-syllable vowel. An additional non-speech condition measured the MMN to duration and frequency changes in tones. In both language groups, diminished MMN amplitudes for the shortening of vowel duration in the word-final syllable suggested a generally more difficult discrimination of vowel duration in a word-final position. Further, shorter MMN latencies for the Finns than the Germans for vowel duration as well as tone duration deviants suggested a generally higher sensitivity to duration contrasts in the Finnish language group. No latency difference between the groups was found for tone frequency processing. Moreover, the Finns, but not the Germans, showed a leftward shift of the MMN scalp distribution for changes in vowel duration, whereas the MMN topography was highly similar between both groups in the tone condition. An enhanced phonetic processing of vowel duration changes and possibly an enhanced processing of sound duration in general is thus indicated for the Finns as a result of their extensive linguistic experience with phonetically distinctive vowel duration contrasts in the native language.

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