Sound symbolism processing is lateralized to the right temporal region in the prelinguistic infant brain

Jiale Yang, Michiko Asano, So Kanazawa, Masami K. Yamaguchi, Mutsumi Imai

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Abstract

Sound symbolism, which is the systematic and non-arbitrary link between a word and its meaning, has been suggested to bootstrap language acquisition in infants. However, it is unclear how sound symbolism is processed in the infants’ brain. To address this issue, we investigated the cortical response in 11-month-old infants in relation to sound-symbolic correspondences using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Two types of stimuli were presented: a novel visual stimulus (e.g., a round shape) followed by a novel auditory stimulus that either sound-symbolically matched (moma) or mismatched (kipi) the shape. We found a significant hemodynamic increase in the right temporal area, when the sound and the referent sound were symbolically matched, but this effect was limited to the moma stimulus. The anatomical locus corresponds to the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (rSTS), which is thought to process sound symbolism in adults. These findings suggest that prelinguistic infants have the biological basis to detect cross-modal correspondences between word sounds and visual referents.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13435
JournalScientific reports
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Dec 1

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