Abstract

Speech perception is dynamic and shows changes across development. In parallel, functional differences in brain development over time have been well documented and these differences may interact with changes in speech perception during infancy and childhood. Further, there is evidence that the two hemispheres contribute unequally to speech segmentation at the sentence and phonemic levels. To disentangle those contributions, we studied the cortical tracking of various sized units of speech that are crucial for spoken language processing in children (4.7–9.3 years old, N = 34) and adults (N = 19). We measured participants’ magnetoencephalogram (MEG) responses to syllables, words, and sentences, calculated the coherence between the speech signal and MEG responses at the level of words and sentences, and further examined auditory evoked responses to syllables. Age-related differences were found for coherence values at the delta and theta frequency bands. Both frequency bands showed an effect of stimulus type, although this was attributed to the length of the stimulus and not the linguistic unit size. There was no difference between hemispheres at the source level either in coherence values for word or sentence processing or in evoked response to syllables. Results highlight the importance of the lower frequencies for speech tracking in the brain across different lexical units. Further, stimulus length affects the speech–brain associations suggesting methodological approaches should be selected carefully when studying speech envelope processing at the neural level. Speech tracking in the brain seems decoupled from more general maturation of the auditory cortex.

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Author notes

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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