Abstract

The present study examined the electrophysiological responses that Native English speakers display during a passive oddball task when they are presented with different types of syllabic contrasts, namely a labial /ba/-dental /da/, a Hindi dental /da/-retroflex /da/ and a within-category (two /ba/ tokens) contrasts. The analyses of the event-related potentials obtained showed that subjects pre-attentively perceive the differences in all experimental conditions, despite not showing such detection behaviourally in the Hindi and within-category conditions. These results support the notion that there is no permanent loss of the initial perceptual abilities that humans have as infants, but that there is an important neural reorganisation which allows the system to overcome the differences detected and only be aware of contrasts that are relevant in the language which will become the subjects native tongue. We also report order asymmetries in the ERP responses and suggest that the percepts and not only the physical attributes of the stimuli have to be considered for the evaluation of the responses obtained. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.