Language Comprehension and Production Networks in Early Childhood


  • Tiziana Srdoc University of Vienna
  • Tibor Tauzin University of Vienna
  • Jutta L. Mueller University of Vienna



Neuroimaging studies in adults provided converging evidence for specialized brain regions involved in language-related tasks [1]. Yet, our understanding of how the brain supports language processing in early childhood remains limited. While it is well-documented how the brain processes speech stimuli in comprehension tasks from early infancy onwards [2], research investigating brain regions involved in language production has been limited to school-aged participants. Thus, a systematic comparison of the overlapping and distinct brain regions involved in language comprehension and production is amiss for early childhood.


The present study aims to address this gap by identifying and comparing brain networks underlying language comprehension and production in three-year-old children. We use functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure the brain's hemodynamic responses as participants engage in an object-viewing-listening-naming paradigm. In all three tasks, images of animals and household objects are presented. The viewing task requires participants to look at the images, the listening task to look at the images and listen to the respective object labels, and the naming task to overtly name the images with the object label. To differentiate between the representation of low-level and high-level information processing, control conditions include viewing scrambled versions of the images paired with listening to the rotated, incomprehensible speech and naming them with "Quatsch."

Expected Results

We predict that the left-lateralized language regions, specifically the frontal and temporal cortices, will activate for the comprehension task. For the production task, we expect increased involvement of frontal language regions and the motor cortex compared to the comprehension task, reflecting motor preparation processes involved in language production. Further, as previous neuroimaging studies in adults have established a substantial overlap between brain regions involved in language comprehension and production tasks [1], we expect to find a similar overlap in 3-year-olds. Given the lack of equivalent studies in this age group, there is a possibility of discovering new patterns of brain activity, such as a more pronounced involvement of the motor system in speech perception than what is typically expected in neurologically healthy adults [3].


By defining the neural networks involved in language processing in 3-year-old children, we aim to provide valuable insights into the neurocognitive resources for speech-related processes in early childhood. Understanding how the developing brain supports language production and comprehension is essential for understanding these skills and their possible impairments across different developmental stages.


[1] L. Menenti, S. M. Gierhan, K. Segaert, and P. Hagoort, “Shared language: Overlap and Segregation of the Neuronal Infrastructure for Speaking and Listening Revealed by Functional MRI,” Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 9, pp. 1173–1182, August 2011. Available:

[2] M. A. Skeide and A. D. Friederici, “The ontogeny of the cortical language network,” Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol. 17, no. 5, pp. 323–332, April 2016. Available:

[3] A. G. Bruderer, D. K. Danielson, P. Kandhadai, and J. F. Werker, “Sensorimotor influences on speech perception in infancy,” PNAS, vol. 112, no. 44, pp. 13531–13536, October 2015. Available: