Physiologic discrimination of stop consonants relates to phonological skills in pre-readers: A biomarker for subsequent reading ability?

Tracis White-Schwoch, Nina Kraus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Reading development builds upon the accurate representation of the phonological structure of spoken language. This representation and its neural foundations have been studied extensively with respect to reading due to pervasive performance deficits on basic phonological tasks observed in children with dyslexia. The subcortical auditory system - A site of intersection for sensory and cognitive input - is exquisitely tuned to code fine timing differences between phonemes, and so likely plays a foundational role in the development of phonological processing and, eventually, reading. This temporal coding of speech varies systematically with reading ability in school age children. Little is known, however, about subcortical speech representation in pre-school age children.We measured auditory brainstem responses to the stop consonants [ba] and [ga] in a cohort of 4- year-old children and assessed their phonological skills. In a typical auditory system, brainstem responses to [ba] and [ga] are out of phase (i.e., differ in time) due to formant frequency differences in the consonant-vowel transitions of the stimuli. We found that children who performed worst on the phonological awareness task insufficiently code this difference, revealing a physiologic link between early phonological skills and the neural representation of speech. We discuss this finding in light of existing theories of the role of the auditory system in developmental dyslexia, and argue for a systems-level perspective for understanding the importance of precise temporal coding for learning to read.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number899
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberDEC
StatePublished - Dec 24 2013


  • Brainstem
  • Dyslexia
  • Phase locking
  • Phonological awareness
  • Reading
  • Temporal coding
  • Temporal sampling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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