The Relationship between Prosodic Sensitivity at the Discourse Level and Reading Skills: An Electrophysiological Investigation

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Brock, Melissa L.
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Middle Tennessee State University
A growing body of research suggests that prosody plays an important role in the acquisition of literacy-related skills. The present study sought to identify electrophysiological indices of prosodic sensitivity during spoken sentence comprehension and to examine the relationship between those brain responses and measures of reading achievement in adult typical readers. The electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded in twenty-four participants while they listened to pairs of spoken instructions regarding the movement of objects onto shapes drawn on a mat. Each trial was composed of a context instruction (e.g., "Put the mouse on the square") followed by a target instruction. The target instruction included either the same object ("Now, put the mouse on the circle") or the same shape (Now, put the frog on the square."). In addition, the prosody of the target instruction was manipulated so that the object was either correctly or incorrectly accented in relation to the context instruction, which yielded two expected prosody conditions and two unexpected prosody conditions. Participants were also administered a series of standardized reading measures. Event-related potential (ERP) results for the unexpected prosody conditions showed a P600-like component in response to superfluous accents and an N400-like component followed by a P600-like component in response to missing accents. The P600 was interpreted as reflecting a reanalysis stage that was prompted when a superfluous or missing accent was encountered, while the N400 suggested that missing accents also hindered semantic integration. The ERP to superfluous accents was negatively correlated with reading measures in the areas of phonological awareness and decoding, meaning that smaller ERP amplitudes were associated with higher scores. A negative correlation that approached significance was found between the ERP to superfluous accents and comprehension. Thus, the higher the scores on those reading measures, the lower the reanalysis cost in response to superfluous accents. These findings suggest that a relationship between prosodic sensitivity and reading persists beyond the period of reading acquisition.
Discourse level, ERPs, Information structure, Prosody, Reading skills, Suprasegmental phonology