The role of phase synchronisation between low frequency amplitude modulations in child phonology and morphology speech tasks.

10 Jul 2018

Recent models of the neural encoding of speech suggest a core role for amplitude modulation (AM) structure, particularly regarding AM phase alignment. Accordingly, speech tasks that measure linguistic development in children may exhibit systematic properties regarding AM structure. Here, the acoustic structure of spoken items in child phonological and morphological tasks, phoneme deletion and plural elicitation, was investigated. The phase synchronisation index (PSI), reflecting the degree of phase alignment between pairs of AMs, was computed for 3 AM bands (delta, theta, beta/low gamma; 0.9-2.5 Hz, 2.5-12 Hz, 12-40 Hz, respectively), for five spectral bands covering 100-7250 Hz. For phoneme deletion, data from 94 child participants with and without dyslexia was used to relate AM structure to behavioural performance. Results revealed that a significant change in magnitude of the phase synchronisation index (ΔPSI) of slower AMs (delta-theta) systematically accompanied both phoneme deletion and plural elicitation. Further, children with dyslexia made more linguistic errors as the delta-theta ΔPSI increased. Accordingly, ΔPSI between slower temporal modulations in the speech signal systematically distinguished test items from accurate responses and predicted task performance. This may suggest that sensitivity to slower AM information in speech is a core aspect of phonological and morphological development.