15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003


Brain Electric Activity Reflects the Underspecification of Phonological Features in the Mental Lexicon

Carsten Eulitz, Aditi Lahiri, Jonas Obleser, Henning Reetz

University of Konstanz, Germany

No word is ever pronounced alike twice and the brain has limited capacities to store and manage information. Under these constraints, abstract underspecified representations where not all phonemic features are stored in the mental lexicon seem to be an effective way to store contrastive information. This proposal, as spelled out in the FUL-model, was examined using event-related brain potentials, i.e. the mismatch negativity (MMN), an automatic change detection response in the brain which is sensitive to language-specific phoneme representations. Subjects were listening to the natural German vowels [o], [ø] and [e]. Across different blocks, vowel pairs were presented to subjects, reversed as standard and deviant. Models not assuming underspecification predict equal MMNs for vowel pairs regardless of the reversal. In contrast, enhanced and earlier MMNs were observed for those conditions where the standard is phonologically underspecified in the mental representation. This result provides first neurobiological evidence for a featurally underspecified mental lexicon.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Eulitz, Carsten / Lahiri, Aditi / Obleser, Jonas / Reetz, Henning (2003): "Brain electric activity reflects the underspecification of phonological features in the mental lexicon", In ICPhS-15, 1631-1634.