Considerable knowledge on neural development related to speech perception has been obtained by functional imaging studies using near-infrared spectroscopy (optical topography). In particular, a pioneering study showed stronger left-dominant activation in the temporal lobe for (normal) forward speech (FW) than for (reversed) backward speech (BW) in neonates. However, it is unclear whether this stronger left-dominant activation for FW is equally observed for any language or is clearer for the mother tongue. We hypothesized that the maternal language elicits clearer activation than a foreign language in newborns because of their prenatal and/or few-day postnatal exposure to the maternal language. To test this hypothesis, we developed a whole-head optode cap for 72-channel optical topography and visualized the spatiotemporal hemodynamics in the brains of 17 Japanese newborns when they were exposed to FW and BW in their maternal language (Japanese) and in a foreign language (English). Statistical analysis showed that all sound stimuli together induced significant activation in the bilateral temporal regions and the frontal region. They also showed that the left temporal-parietal region was significantly more active for Japanese FW than Japanese BW or English FW, while no significant difference between FW and BW was shown for English. This supports our hypothesis and suggests that the few-day-old brain begins to become attuned to the maternal language. Together with a finding of equivalent activation for all sound stimuli in the adjacent measurement positions in the temporal region, these findings further clarify the functional organization of the neonatal brain.
Copyright © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.