Semantic and Phonological Encoding Times in Adults Who Stutter: Brain Electrophysiological Evidence

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Purpose: Some psycholinguistic theories of stuttering propose that language production operates along a different time course in adults who stutter (AWS) versus typically fluent adults (TFA). However, behavioral evidence for such a difference has been mixed. Here, the time course of semantic and phonological encoding in picture naming was compared in AWS (n = 16) versus TFA (n = 16) by measuring 2 event-related potential (ERP) components: NoGo N200, an ERP index of response inhibition, and lateralized readiness potential, an ERP index of response preparation.

Method: Each trial required a semantic judgment about a picture in addition to a phonemic judgment about the target label of the picture. Judgments were mapped onto a dual-choice (Go–NoGo/left–right) push-button response paradigm. On each trial, ERP activity time-locked to picture onset was recorded at 32 scalp electrodes.

Results: NoGo N200 was detected earlier to semantic NoGo trials than to phonemic NoGo trials in both groups, replicating previous evidence that semantic encoding generally precedes phonological encoding in language production. Moreover, N200 onset was earlier to semantic NoGo trials in TFA than in AWS, indicating that semantic information triggering response inhibition became available earlier in TFA versus AWS. In contrast, the time course of N200 activity to phonemic NoGo trials did not differ between groups. Lateralized readiness potential activity was influenced by strategic response preparation and, thus, could not be used to index real-time semantic and phonological encoding.

Conclusion: NoGo N200 results point to slowed semantic encoding in AWS versus TFA. Discussion considers possible factors in slowed semantic encoding in AWS and how fluency might be impacted by slowed semantic encoding.

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Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, v. 60, issue 10, p. 2906-2923