The complex auditory brainstem response (cABR) can reflect language-based plasticity in subcortical stages of auditory processing. It is sensitive to differences between language groups as well as stimulus properties, e.g. intensity or frequency. It is also sensitive to the synchronicity of the neural population stimulated by sound, which results in increased amplitude of wave V.
Finnish is a full-fledged quantity language, in which word meaning is dependent upon duration of the vowels and consonants. Previous studies have shown that Finnish speakers have enhanced behavioural sound duration discrimination ability and larger cortical mismatch negativity (MMN) to duration change compared to German and French speakers.
The next step is to find out whether these enhanced duration discrimination abilities of quantity language speakers originate at the brainstem level. Since German has a complementary quantity contrast which restricts the possible patterns of short and long vowels and consonants, the current experiment compared cABR between nonmusician Finnish and German native speakers using seven short complex stimuli. Finnish speakers had a larger cABR peak amplitude than German speakers, while the peak onset latency was only affected by stimulus intensity and spectral band. The results suggest that early cABR responses are better synchronised for Finns, which could underpin the enhanced duration sensitivity of quantity language speakers.