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Electrophysiological Evidence for the Understanding of Maternal Speech by 9-Month-Old Infants

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


<mark>Journal publication date</mark>07/2012
<mark>Journal</mark>Psychological Science
Issue number7
Number of pages6
Pages (from-to)728-733
<mark>Original language</mark>English


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.