Specific Language Impairment (SLI) is a developmental disorder affecting language learning across a number of domains. These difficulties are thought to be related to difficulties processing auditory speech, given findings of imperfect auditory processing across nonspeech tones, individual speech sounds and syllables. However the relationship of auditory difficulties to language development remains unclear. Perceiving connected speech involves resolving coarticulation, the imperceptible blending of speech movements across adjacent sounds, which gives rise to subtle variations in speech sounds. The present study used event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine neural responses to coarticulation in school age children with and without SLI. Atypical neural responses were observed for the SLI group in ERP indices of prelexical- phonological but not lexical stages of processing. Specifically, incongruent coarticulatory information resulted in a modulation of the N100 in the SLI but not typically developing group while a Phonological Mapping Negativity was elicited in the typically developing but not SLI group, unless additional cues were present. Neural responses to unexpected lexical mismatches indexed by the N400 ERP component were the same for both groups. The results demonstrate a relative insensitivity to important subphonemic features in SLI. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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