Spatiotemporal neural dynamics of word understanding in 12- to 18-month-old-infants.
ABSTRACT: Learning words is central in human development. However, lacking clear evidence for how or where language is processed in the developing brain, it is unknown whether these processes are similar in infants and adults. Here, we use magnetoencephalography in combination with high-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging to noninvasively estimate the spatiotemporal distribution of word-selective brain activity in 12- to 18-month-old infants. Infants watched pictures of common objects and listened to words that they understood. A subset of these infants also listened to familiar words compared with sensory control sounds. In both experiments, words evoked a characteristic event-related brain response peaking ?400 ms after word onset, which localized to left frontotemporal cortices. In adults, this activity, termed the N400m, is associated with lexico-semantic encoding. Like adults, we find that the amplitude of the infant N400m is also modulated by semantic priming, being reduced to words preceded by a semantically related picture. These findings suggest that similar left frontotemporal areas are used for encoding lexico-semantic information throughout the life span, from the earliest stages of word learning. Furthermore, this ontogenetic consistency implies that the neurophysiological processes underlying the N400m may be important both for understanding already known words and for learning new words.
Project description:What aspects of word meaning are important in early word learning and lexico-semantic network development? Adult lexico-semantic systems flexibly encode multiple types of semantic features, including functional, perceptual, taxonomic, and encyclopedic. However, various theoretical accounts of lexical development differ on whether and how these semantic properties of word meanings are initially encoded into young children's emerging lexico-semantic networks. Whereas some accounts highlight the importance of early perceptual versus conceptual properties, others posit that thematic or functional aspects of word meaning are primary relative to taxonomic knowledge. We seek to shed light on these debates with 2 modeling studies that explore patterns in early word learning using a large database of early vocabulary in 5,450 children, and a newly developed set of semantic features of early acquired nouns. In Study 1, we ask whether semantic properties of early acquired words relate to order in which these words are typically learned; Study 2 models normative lexico-semantic noun-feature network development compared to random network growth. Both studies provide converging evidence that perceptual properties of word meanings play a key role in early word learning and lexico-semantic network development. The findings lend support to theoretical accounts of language learning that highlight the importance of the child's perceptual experience. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
Project description:Studies with monolingual adults have identified successive stages occurring in different brain regions for processing single written words. We combined magnetoencephalography and magnetic resonance imaging to compare these stages between the first (L1) and second (L2) languages in bilingual adults. L1 words in a size judgment task evoked a typical left-lateralized sequence of activity first in ventral occipitotemporal cortex (VOT: previously associated with visual word-form encoding) and then ventral frontotemporal regions (associated with lexico-semantic processing). Compared to L1, words in L2 activated right VOT more strongly from approximately 135 ms; this activation was attenuated when words became highly familiar with repetition. At approximately 400 ms, L2 responses were generally later than L1, more bilateral, and included the same lateral occipitotemporal areas as were activated by pictures. We propose that acquiring a language involves the recruitment of right hemisphere and posterior visual areas that are not necessary once fluency is achieved.
Project description:Recently, our laboratory has shown that the neural mechanisms for encoding lexico-semantic information in adults operate functionally by 12-18 months of age within left frontotemporal cortices (Travis et al., 2011. Spatiotemporal neural dynamics of word understanding in 12- to 18-month-old-infants. Cereb Cortex. 8:1832-1839). However, there is minimal knowledge of the structural changes that occur within these and other cortical regions important for language development. To identify regional structural changes taking place during this important period in infant development, we examined age-related changes in tissue signal properties of gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) intensity and contrast. T1-weighted surface-based measures were acquired from 12- to 19-month-old infants and analyzed using a general linear model. Significant age effects were observed for GM and WM intensity and contrast within bilateral inferior lateral and anterovental temporal regions, dorsomedial frontal, and superior parietal cortices. Region of interest (ROI) analyses revealed that GM and WM intensity and contrast significantly increased with age within the same left lateral temporal regions shown to generate lexico-semantic activity in infants and adults. These findings suggest that neurophysiological processes supporting linguistic and cognitive behaviors may develop before cellular and structural maturation is complete within associative cortices. These results have important implications for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms relating structural to functional brain development.
Project description:Infants are highly sensitive to statistical patterns in their auditory language input that mark word categories (e.g., noun and verb). However, it is unknown whether experience with these cues facilitates the acquisition of semantic properties of word categories. In a study testing this hypothesis, infants first listened to an artificial language in which word categories were reliably distinguished by statistical cues (experimental group) or in which these properties did not cue category membership (control group). Both groups were then trained on identical pairings between the words and pictures from two categories (animals and vehicles). Only infants in the experimental group learned the trained associations between specific words and pictures. Moreover, these infants generalized the pattern to include novel pairings. These results suggest that experience with statistical cues marking lexical categories sets the stage for learning the meanings of individual words and for generalizing meanings to new category members.
Project description:Early word learning in infants relies on statistical, prosodic, and social cues that support speech segmentation and the attachment of meaning to words. It is debated whether such early word knowledge represents mere associations between sound patterns and visual object features, or reflects referential understanding of words. By measuring an event-related brain potential component known as the N400, we demonstrated that 9-month-old infants can detect the mismatch between an object appearing from behind an occluder and a preceding label with which their mother introduces it. Differential N400 amplitudes have been shown to reflect semantic priming in adults, and its absence in infants has been interpreted as a sign of associative word learning. By setting up a live communicative situation for referring to objects, we demonstrated that a similar priming effect also occurs in young infants. This finding may indicate that word meaning is referential from the outset of word learning and that referential expectation drives, rather than results from, vocabulary acquisition in humans.
Project description:Previous research has pointed out that the combination of orthographic and semantic-associative training is a more advantageous strategy for the lexicalization of novel written word-forms than their single orthographic training. However, paradigms used previously involve explicit stimuli categorization (lexical decision), which likely influence word learning. In the present study, we used a more automatic task (silent reading) to determine the advantage of the associative training, by comparing the brain electrical signals elicited in combined (orthographic and semantic) and single (only orthographic) training conditions. In addition, the learning effect (in terms of similar neurophysiological activity between novel and known words) was also tested under a categorization paradigm, enabling determination of the possible influence of the training task in the lexicalization process. Results indicated that novel words repeatedly associated with meaningful cues showed a higher attenuation of N400 responses than those trained in the single orthographic condition, confirming the higher facilitation in the lexico-semantic processing of these stimuli, as a consequence of semantic associations. Moreover, only when the combined training was carried out in the reading task did novel words show similar N400 responses to those elicited by known words, suggesting the achievement of a similar lexical processing to known words. Crucially, when the training is carried out under a demanding task context (lexical decision), known words exhibited positive enhancement within the N400 time window, contributing to maintaining N400 differences with novel trained words and confounding the outcome of the learning. Such deflection-compatible with the modulation of the categorization-related P300 component-suggests that novel word learning could be influenced by the activation of categorization-related processes. Thus, the use of low-demand tasks arises as a more appropriate approach to study novel word learning, enabling the build-up process of mental representations, which probably depends on pure lexical and semantic factors rather than being guided by categorization demands.
Project description:We used Magnetoencephalography (MEG) in combination with Representational Similarity Analysis to probe neural activity associated with distinct, item-specific lexico-semantic predictions during language comprehension. MEG activity was measured as participants read highly constraining sentences in which the final words could be predicted. Before the onset of the predicted words, both the spatial and temporal patterns of brain activity were more similar when the same words were predicted than when different words were predicted. The temporal patterns localized to the left inferior and medial temporal lobe. These findings provide evidence that unique spatial and temporal patterns of neural activity are associated with item-specific lexico-semantic predictions. We suggest that the unique spatial patterns reflected the prediction of spatially distributed semantic features associated with the predicted word, and that the left inferior/medial temporal lobe played a role in temporally 'binding' these features, giving rise to unique lexico-semantic predictions.
Project description:Language comprehension engages a distributed network of frontotemporal, parietal, and sensorimotor regions, but it is still unclear how meaning of words and their semantic relationships are represented and processed within these regions and to which degrees lexico-semantic representations differ between regions and semantic types. We used fMRI and representational similarity analysis to relate word-elicited multivoxel patterns to semantic similarity between action and object words. In left inferior frontal (BA 44-45-47), left posterior middle temporal and left precentral cortex, the similarity of brain response patterns reflected semantic similarity among action-related verbs, as well as across lexical classes-between action verbs and tool-related nouns and, to a degree, between action verbs and food nouns, but not between action verbs and animal nouns. Instead, posterior inferior temporal cortex exhibited a reverse response pattern, which reflected the semantic similarity among object-related nouns, but not action-related words. These results show that semantic similarity is encoded by a range of cortical areas, including multimodal association (e.g., anterior inferior frontal, posterior middle temporal) and modality-preferential (premotor) cortex and that the representational geometries in these regions are partly dependent on semantic type, with semantic similarity among action-related words crossing lexical-semantic category boundaries.
Project description:There is general agreement that perisylvian language cortex plays a major role in lexical and semantic processing; but the contribution of additional, more widespread, brain areas in the processing of different semantic word categories remains controversial. We investigated word processing in two groups of patients whose neurodegenerative diseases preferentially affect specific parts of the brain, to determine whether their performance would vary as a function of semantic categories proposed to recruit those brain regions. Cohorts with (i) Semantic Dementia (SD), who have anterior temporal-lobe atrophy, and (ii) Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA), who have predominantly parieto-occipital atrophy, performed a lexical decision test on words from five different lexico-semantic categories: colour (e.g., yellow), form (oval), number (seven), spatial prepositions (under) and function words (also). Sets of pseudo-word foils matched the target words in length and bi-/tri-gram frequency. Word-frequency was matched between the two visual word categories (colour and form) and across the three other categories (number, prepositions, and function words). Age-matched healthy individuals served as controls. Although broad word processing deficits were apparent in both patient groups, the deficit was strongest for colour words in SD and for spatial prepositions in PCA. The patterns of performance on the lexical decision task demonstrate (a) general lexicosemantic processing deficits in both groups, though more prominent in SD than in PCA, and (b) differential involvement of anterior-temporal and posterior-parietal cortex in the processing of specific semantic categories of words.
Project description:Word segmentation, detecting word boundaries in continuous speech, is a critical aspect of language learning. Previous research in infants and adults demonstrated that a stream of speech can be readily segmented based solely on the statistical and speech cues afforded by the input. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the neural substrate of word segmentation was examined on-line as participants listened to three streams of concatenated syllables, containing either statistical regularities alone, statistical regularities and speech cues, or no cues. Despite the participants' inability to explicitly detect differences between the speech streams, neural activity differed significantly across conditions, with left-lateralized signal increases in temporal cortices observed only when participants listened to streams containing statistical regularities, particularly the stream containing speech cues. In a second fMRI study, designed to verify that word segmentation had implicitly taken place, participants listened to trisyllabic combinations that occurred with different frequencies in the streams of speech they just heard ("words," 45 times; "partwords," 15 times; "nonwords," once). Reliably greater activity in left inferior and middle frontal gyri was observed when comparing words with partwords and, to a lesser extent, when comparing partwords with nonwords. Activity in these regions, taken to index the implicit detection of word boundaries, was positively correlated with participants' rapid auditory processing skills. These findings provide a neural signature of on-line word segmentation in the mature brain and an initial model with which to study developmental changes in the neural architecture involved in processing speech cues during language learning.