Spoken word recognition and production require fast transformations between acoustic, phonological, and conceptual neural representations. Bilinguals perform these transformations in native and non-native languages, deriving unified semantic concepts from equivalent, but acoustically different words. Here we exploit this capacity of bilinguals to investigate input invariant semantic representations in the brain. We acquired EEG data while Dutch subjects, highly proficient in English listened to four monosyllabic and acoustically distinct animal words in both languages (e.g., "paard"-"horse"). Multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) was applied to identify EEG response patterns that discriminate between individual words within one language (within-language discrimination) and generalize meaning across two languages (across-language generalization). Furthermore, employing two EEG feature selection approaches, we assessed the contribution of temporal and oscillatory EEG features to our classification results. MVPA revealed that within-language discrimination was possible in a broad time-window (~50-620 ms) after word onset probably reflecting acoustic-phonetic and semantic-conceptual differences between the words. Most interestingly, significant across-language generalization was possible around 550-600 ms, suggesting the activation of common semantic-conceptual representations from the Dutch and English nouns. Both types of classification, showed a strong contribution of oscillations below 12 Hz, indicating the importance of low frequency oscillations in the neural representation of individual words and concepts. This study demonstrates the feasibility of MVPA to decode individual spoken words from EEG responses and to assess the spectro-temporal dynamics of their language invariant semantic-conceptual representations. We discuss how this method and results could be relevant to track the neural mechanisms underlying conceptual encoding in comprehension and production.
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- EEG decoding, EEG oscillations, speech perception, spoken word recognition, bilinguals, semantic representations, conceptual representation, ELECTROPHYSIOLOGICAL EVIDENCE, BRAIN OSCILLATIONS, AUDITORY-CORTEX, TIME-COURSE, PATTERN-ANALYSIS, SPEECH, INTEGRATION, RESPONSES, MEMORY, VOICE