Processing of an obligatory phonotactic restriction outside the focus of the participants' attention was investigated by means of ERPs using (reversed) experimental oddball blocks. Dorsal fricative assimilation (DFA) is a phonotactic constraint in German grammar that is violated in *[ɛx] but not in [ɔx], [ɛ∫], and [ɔ∫]. These stimulus sequences engage the auditory deviance detection mechanism as reflected by the MMN component of the ERP. In Experiment 1 (n = 16), stimuli were contrasted pairwise such that they shared the initial vowel but differed with regard to the fricative. Phonotactically ill-formed deviants elicited stronger MMN responses than well-formed deviants that differed acoustically in the same way from the standard stimulation but did not contain a phonotactic violation. In Experiment 2 (n = 16), stimuli were contrasted such that they differed with regard to the vowel but shared the fricative. MMN was elicited by the vowel change. An additional, later MMN response was observed for the phonotactically ill-formed syllable only. This MMN cannot be attributed to any phonetic or segmental difference between standard and deviant. These findings suggest that implicit phonotactic knowledge is activated and applied in preattentive speech processing.

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