Impaired Audiovisual Representation of Phonemes in Children with Developmental Language Disorder.

Research paper by Natalya N Kaganovich, Jennifer J Schumaker, Sharon S Christ

Indexed on: 02 May '21Published on: 01 May '21Published in: Brain sciences


We examined whether children with developmental language disorder (DLD) differed from their peers with typical development (TD) in the degree to which they encode information about a talker's mouth shape into long-term phonemic representations. Children watched a talker's face and listened to rare changes from [i] to [u] or the reverse. In the neutral condition, the talker's face had a closed mouth throughout. In the audiovisual violation condition, the mouth shape always matched the frequent vowel, even when the rare vowel was played. We hypothesized that in the neutral condition no long-term audiovisual memory traces for speech sounds would be activated. Therefore, the neural response elicited by deviants would reflect only a violation of the observed audiovisual sequence. In contrast, we expected that in the audiovisual violation condition, a long-term memory trace for the speech sound/lip configuration typical for the frequent vowel would be activated. In this condition then, the neural response elicited by rare sound changes would reflect a violation of not only observed audiovisual patterns but also of a long-term memory representation for how a given vowel looks when articulated. Children pressed a response button whenever they saw a talker's face assume a silly expression. We found that in children with TD, rare auditory changes produced a significant mismatch negativity (MMN) event-related potential (ERP) component over the posterior scalp in the audiovisual violation condition but not in the neutral condition. In children with DLD, no MMN was present in either condition. Rare vowel changes elicited a significant P3 in both groups and conditions, indicating that all children noticed auditory changes. Our results suggest that children with TD, but not children with DLD, incorporate visual information into long-term phonemic representations and detect violations in audiovisual phonemic congruency even when they perform a task that is unrelated to phonemic processing.