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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

October 2004, Vol. 16, No. 8, Pages 1375-1387
(doi: 10.1162/0898929042304714)
© 2004 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Common Neural Basis for Phoneme Processing in Infants and Adults
Article PDF (2.85 MB)

Investigating the degree of similarity between infants' and adults' representation of speech is critical to our understanding of infants' ability to acquire language. Phoneme perception plays a crucial role in language processing, and numerous behavioral studies have demonstrated similar capacities in infants and adults, but are these subserved by the same neural substrates or networks? In this article, we review event-related potential (ERP) results obtained in infants during phoneme discrimination tasks and compare them to results from the adult literature. The striking similarities observed both in behavior and ERPs between initial and mature stages suggest a continuity in processing and neural structure. We argue that infants have access at the beginning of life to phonemic representations, which are modified without training or implicit instruction, but by the statistical distributions of speech input in order to converge to the native phonemic categories.