Interdependence of Linguistic and Indexical Speech Perception Skills in School-Age Children With Early Cochlear Implantation

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Abstract

Objectives:

This study documented the ability of experienced pediatric cochlear implant (CI) users to perceive linguistic properties (what is said) and indexical attributes (emotional intent and talker identity) of speech, and examined the extent to which linguistic (LSP) and indexical (ISP) perception skills are related. Preimplant-aided hearing, age at implantation, speech processor technology, CI-aided thresholds, sequential bilateral cochlear implantation, and academic integration with hearing age-mates were examined for their possible relationships to both LSP and ISP skills.

Design:

Sixty 9- to 12-year olds, first implanted at an early age (12 to 38 months), participated in a comprehensive test battery that included the following LSP skills: (1) recognition of monosyllabic words at loud and soft levels, (2) repetition of phonemes and suprasegmental features from nonwords, and (3) recognition of key words from sentences presented within a noise background, and the following ISP skills: (1) discrimination of across-gender and within-gender (female) talkers and (2) identification and discrimination of emotional content from spoken sentences. A group of 30 age-matched children without hearing loss completed the nonword repetition, and talker- and emotion-perception tasks for comparison.

Results:

Word-recognition scores decreased with signal level from a mean of 77% correct at 70 dB SPL to 52% at 50 dB SPL. On average, CI users recognized 50% of key words presented in sentences that were 9.8 dB above background noise. Phonetic properties were repeated from nonword stimuli at about the same level of accuracy as suprasegmental attributes (70 and 75%, respectively). The majority of CI users identified emotional content and differentiated talkers significantly above chance levels. Scores on LSP and ISP measures were combined into separate principal component scores and these components were highly correlated (r = 0.76). Both LSP and ISP component scores were higher for children who received a CI at the youngest ages, upgraded to more recent CI technology and had lower CI-aided thresholds. Higher scores, for both LSP and ISP components, were also associated with higher language levels and mainstreaming at younger ages. Higher ISP scores were associated with better social skills.

Conclusions:

Results strongly support a link between indexical and linguistic properties in perceptual analysis of speech. These two channels of information appear to be processed together in parallel by the auditory system and are inseparable in perception. Better speech performance, for both linguistic and indexical perception, is associated with younger age at implantation and use of more recent speech processor technology. Children with better speech perception demonstrated better spoken language, earlier academic mainstreaming, and placement in more typically sized classrooms (i.e., >20 students). Well-developed social skills were more highly associated with the ability to discriminate the nuances of talker identity and emotion than with the ability to recognize words and sentences through listening. The extent to which early cochlear implantation enabled these early-implanted children to make use of both linguistic and indexical properties of speech influenced not only their development of spoken language, but also their ability to function successfully in a hearing world.

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