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Early N400 development and later language acquisition


  • We thank all the families who took part in this study. Special thanks go to Christina Rügen and Jördis Haselow for their empathy in treating our subjects and their commitment in recording the ERP data. The data characterizing the somatic and neurological development of our subjects were kindly provided by Volker Hesse. We are grateful to Sabina Pauen and her group for kindly providing the data of the Bayley Mental Scale, as well as Zvi Penner and Petra Schulz for providing resources and manpower for acquiring the SETK-2 data. We thank Kerrie Elson-Güttler for proofreading and thereby considerably improving the manuscript. This study was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) (FR-519/18-1) and by the Schram Foundation (T278/10824/2001, Genetic Bases of Specific Language Impairment).

Address reprint requests to: Manuela Friedrich, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, PO. Box 500 355, 04303 Leipzig, Germany. E-mail:


Recent developmental research on word processing has shown that mechanisms of lexical priming are already present in 12-month-olds whereas mechanisms of semantic integration indexed by the N400 mature a few months later. In a longitudinal setting we investigated whether the occurrence of an N400 at 19 months is associated with the children's language skills later on. To this end children were retrospectively grouped according to their verbal performance in a language test at 30 months. Children with later age-adequate expressive language skills already displayed an N400 at 19 months. In contrast, children with later poor expressive language skills who have an enhanced risk for the development of specific language impairment (SLI) did not show an early N400. The results imply that children who have deficits in their expressive language at the age of 30 months are already impaired in their semantic development about one year earlier.