Acoustic structures associated with native-language phonological sequences are enhanced within auditory pathways for perception, although the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. To elucidate processes that facilitate perception, time–frequency (T–F) analyses of EEGs obtained from native speakers of English and Polish were conducted. Participants listened to same and different nonword pairs within counterbalanced attend and passive conditions. Nonwords contained the onsets /pt/, /pət/, /st/, and /sət/ that occur in both the Polish and English languages with the exception of /pt/, which never occurs in the English language in word onset. Measures of spectral power and inter-trial phase locking (ITPL) in the low gamma (LG) and theta-frequency bands were analyzed from two bilateral, auditory source-level channels, created through source localization modeling. Results revealed significantly larger spectral power in LG for the English listeners to the unfamiliar /pt/ onsets from the right hemisphere at early cortical stages, during the passive condition. Further, ITPL values revealed distinctive responses in high and low-theta to acoustic characteristics of the onsets, which were modulated by language exposure. These findings, language-specific processing in LG and acoustic-level and language-specific processing in theta, support the view that multi scale temporal processing in the LG and theta-frequency bands facilitates speech perception.
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