More than half of the world’s population is multilingual, yet it is not known how the human brain encodes the perception of native vs. nonnative speech. To find out, we asked German native speakers to detect the onset of native and nonnative (English and Turkish) vowels in a roving standard stimulation. Using EEG, we show that nonnativeness is robustly registered by an increase in phase coherence in the alpha band (8-12 Hz), beginning as early as ~100 ms after stimulus onset and lasting more than 200 ms. The alpha band effect is speech-specific, successfully predicts the response speed advantage of nonnative speech, and grants ~90% decoding accuracy in distinguishing native vs. nonnative speech irrespective of language familiarity. We propose alpha phase coherence as a candidate neural channel for the online resolution of the native-nonnative contrast in the adult brain.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience