Intact phonological processing is crucial for successful literacy acquisition. While individuals with difficulties in reading and spelling (i.e., developmental dyslexia) are known to experience deficient phoneme discrimination (i.e., segmental phonology), findings concerning their prosodic processing (i.e., suprasegmental phonology) are controversial. Because there are no behavior-independent studies on the underlying neural correlates of prosodic processing in dyslexia, these controversial findings might be explained by different task demands. To provide an objective behavior-independent picture of segmental and suprasegmental phonological processing in impaired literacy acquisition, we investigated event-related brain potentials during passive listening in typically and poor-spelling German school children. For segmental phonology, we analyzed the Mismatch Negativity (MMN) during vowel length discrimination, capturing automatic auditory deviancy detection in repetitive contexts. For suprasegmental phonology, we analyzed the Closure Positive Shift (CPS) that automatically occurs in response to prosodic boundaries. Our results revealed spelling group differences for the MMN, but not for the CPS, indicating deficient segmental, but intact suprasegmental phonological processing in poor spellers. The present findings point towards a differential role of segmental and suprasegmental phonology in literacy disorders and call for interventions that invigorate impaired literacy by utilizing intact prosody in addition to training deficient phonemic awareness.
Männel, C., Schaadt, G., Illner, F. K., van der Meer, E., & Friederici, A. D. (2017). Phonological abilities in literacy-impaired children: Brain potentials reveal deficient phoneme discrimination, but intact prosodic processing. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 14–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2016.11.007