In the present study, event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were used to compare auditory sentence comprehension in 16 children with developmental dyslexia (age 9–12 years) and unimpaired controls matched on age, sex, and nonverbal intelligence. Passive sentences were presented, which were either correct or contained a syntactic violation (phrase structure) or a semantic violation (selectional restriction). In an overall sentence correctness judgment task, both control and dyslexic children performed well. In the ERPs, control children and dyslexic children demonstrated a similar N400 component for the semantic violation. For the syntactic violation, control children demonstrated a combined pattern, consisting of an early starting bilaterally distributed anterior negativity and a late centro-parietal positivity (P600). Dyslexic children showed a different pattern that is characterized by a delayed left lateralized anterior negativity, followed by a P600. These data indicate that dyslexic children do not differ from unimpaired controls with respect to semantic integration processes (N400) or controlled processes of syntactic reanalyses (P600) during auditory sentence comprehension. However, early and presumably highly automatic processes of phrase structure building reflected in the anterior negativity are delayed in dyslexic children. Moreover, the differences in hemispheric distribution of the syntactic negativity indicate different underlying processes in dyslexic children and controls. The bilateral distribution in controls suggests an involvement of right hemispherically established prosodic processes in addition to the left hemispherically localized syntactic processes, supporting the view that prosodic information may be used to facilitate syntactic processing during normal comprehension. The left hemispheric distribution observed for dyslexic children, in contrast, suggests that these children do not rely on information about the prosodic contour during auditory sentence comprehension as much as controls do. This finding points toward a phonological impairment in dyslexic children that might hamper the development of syntactic processes.

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