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Speech Perception, Production and Bilingualism
Cognitive Neuroscience of Auditory Perception and Attention
Group of Attention, Action and Perception
Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience
Neuropsychology and Functional Neuroimaging
Grammar and Bilingualism

Adult language processing

Project coordinator: Núria Sebastian Gallés.

Project members: Begoña Díaz, Fátima Vera Constan, Cristina Baus, Abeba Roessler, Hernando Santamaría, Juan Manuel Toro, Maria Isabel Nuñez-Peña, Pilar Prieto, Angels Colomé, Itziar Laka, Julio Gonzalez, Albert Costa, Gustavo Deco, Carles Escera.


Much research suggests that language learning is a complex process in which experience with linguistic input provides learners with important information regarding, for example, the distribution of sounds in their language. Furthermore, it has also been shown that this helps them organise the input across several cognitive levels (including phonetic categories). This project explores how individual differences and experience influence the processing of novel linguistic stimuli by adults, and how these aspects contribute in the shaping of certain cognitive structures 

SUBPROJECT 1: Individual differences and Linguistic experience. We have previously tackled the question of how individual differences affect the way language is processed, and how linguistic experience further modulates other aspects of cognitive processing in adults. In order to provide a comprehensive picture of these processes we have used an array of behavioural and electrophysiological techniques. In one set of studies we have shown that linguistic experience (rather than general acoustic processing) forms the basis of individual differences in L2 phonetic mastery (Díaz, Baus, Escera, Costa & Sebastián-Gallés, 2008), and that such domain-specific effects can be traced to brain specialisation in the form of hemispheric lateralisation (Gonzalez & McLennan, 2009). Effects of experience with linguistic stimuli can also be traced across different processing levels. For example, Sebastián-Gallés, Vera-Constan, Larsson, Costa and Deco (2009) assessed how phoneme categorisation interacted with lexical processing, and found that variability in lower perceptual levels can permeate participants’ performance in lexically-related tasks. Furthermore, the experiments demonstrated that early exposure to one or two different languages produces perceptual changes that are reflected in how lexical stress is processed (Dupoux, Peperkamp & Sebastián-Gallés, 2010). This suggests a highly interactive scenario across cognitive levels during language processing 

SUBPROJECT 2: Statistical computations in speech segmentation. Distributional information among syllables, that is, the statistical description of how syllables are organised in a given language, is used to segment speech into words. An important avenue of research here is to understand how this information interacts with other cues to word boundaries. Toro, Sebastián-Gallés and Mattys (2009) showed that listeners cannot segment words from a continuous speech stream if statistical and stress cues collide. More specifically, if attention is directed away from the words’ boundaries by increasing the pitch of middle syllables, listeners cannot take advantage of statistical information that signals the beginning and ending of words. Complementarily, Cunillera et al. (2009) used a combination of ERP and fMRI methods and demonstrated that the extraction of statistical information is a gradual process which leads to correct segmentation of words after only two minutes of exposure and that it involves left pre-frontal and frontal brain regions. 


  1. Effect of language on numerical calculations (Colomé, Laka & Sebastián-Gallés, 2010; Nuñez-Peña, 2008.
  2. Development of word recognition processes in Basque (Acha, Laka & Perea, 2010).
  3. Description of tonal alignment patterns in Catalan (Prieto, 2009).
  4. Electrophysiological markers of mirrored letters’ processing (Nuñez-Peña & Aznar-Casanova, 2009).



Figure 1. MMN for "good" (continuous line)and "bad" (dotted line) perceivers in native (A)and non-native (B) phoneme contrasts. Results suggest that individual differences in the processing of native phonetic contrasts may predict subsequet L2 perception.