We recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) in 2-month-old infants in two different states of alertness: awake and asleep. Syllables varying in vowel duration (long vs short) were presented in an oddball paradigm, known to elicit a mismatch brain response. ERPs of both groups showed a mismatch response reflected in a positivity followed by a frontal negativity. While the positivity was present as a function of the stimulus type (present for long deviants only), the negativity varied as a function of the state of alertness (present for awake infants only). These data indicate a functional separation between precognitive and cognitive aspects of duration mismatch essential for the distinction between long and short vowels during early infancy.