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Phonotactic constraint violations in German grammar are detected automatically in auditory speech processing: A human event-related potentials study


  • The authors are grateful to Mariam Hartinger, Mira Müller, Anja Roye, Annekathrin Weise, Jörg Dreyer, and Andreas Widmann for help in various matters, and to an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (Priority Programme 1234 grant JA1009/10-1 to T.J. and H.T.).

Address correspondence to: Johanna Steinberg, Institute of Psychology, University of Leipzig, Seeburgstrasse 14–20, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. E-mail:


In this human ERP study, effects of language-specific phonotactic restrictions on automatic auditory speech processing were investigated by means of the dorsal fricative assimilation (DFA) that is obligatory in German grammar. Using a multiple passive oddball paradigm, we studied the deviance-related processing of phonotactically ill-formed strings violating DFA. Eight VC-syllables were created by exhaustively combining the vowels inline image and the dorsal fricatives inline image, resulting in four well-formed and four ill-formed stimuli that were contrasted in oddball blocks with changing probabilities of occurrence. Only the ill-formed deviants elicited a negative ERP deflection maximal at about 100 msec after the onset of the fricative. This negativity is considered to reflect a phonotactic evaluation process requiring the activation of implicit phonotactic knowledge from long-term memory and resulting in the automatic detection of a DFA violation.