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Keywords:

  • Acoustics;
  • Language;
  • L2 minimum-norm estimate;
  • Lexical processing;
  • Mismatch negativity (MMN);
  • Phonology;
  • Semantics;
  • Spoken word

Abstract

Neurophysiological brain activity evoked by individual spoken words and pseudowords was recorded and the mismatch negativity (MMN), an automatic index of experience-dependent auditory memory traces, was calculated. Consistent with earlier reported results, the MMN response to word-final syllables was enhanced compared with that elicited by the same syllables placed in a pseudoword context. Here we now demonstrate that the enhancement of the MMN elicited by two individual words showed different scalp topographies. The early word-specific brain activity is consistent with the assumption that the memory traces activated by individual words are carried by large neuronal ensembles that differ in their distributions over the cortex. Current source estimates localized the between-word differences in the right hemisphere and in parieto-occipital left-hemispheric areas. The differential brain responses to individual words appeared as early as ∼100 ms after the recognition points of the words, suggesting that their specific memory traces become active almost immediately after the information in the acoustic input is sufficient for word identification.