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The role of hearing in the development of speech and language is inevitable. Hearing impairment (HI) at an early age, particularly before the onset of language, can have a negative effect on children’s speech and language development.Early rehabilitation is very crucial in improving the speech characteristics in children with HI. Compared to conventional hearing aids, cochlear implant (CI) is being found to facilitate relatively better speech production. However vowel and consonant errors persist in the speech of children with CI. Acoustically, these errors reflect the temporal and spectral characteristics of speech. Hence, an acoustical analysis of the speech sounds in children with CI provides a better representation of their speech production skills. With this background, the present study aimed at investigating the acoustic characteristics of vowels in Malayalam speaking children with cochlear implant. The study was conducted on a total of 12 Malayalam speaking children in the age range of 4 and 7 years. Experimental group comprised of 6 children with CI and control group comprised of 6 typically developing children. Stimuli consisted of bisyllabicpicturable words with targets being 5 short and 5 long vowels in word initial position. Picture naming task was employed to elicit the desired responses. The responses were recorded and analyzed for acoustic parameters such as Vowel duration, Ratio of duration of short and long vowel, Formant frequencies (F1 and F2) and Vowel Articulatory Index (VAI). Results revealedgreater values for vowel duration in experimental group compared to control group for all the vowels except for /u/. Ratio of duration of short and long vowel was also found to be higher in experimental group compared to control group. Further F1 for all vowels was found to be higher in experimental group with variability noticed in F2 values. VAI, a measure of variability in vowel articulation was found be lower in experimental group. Further analysis revealed no significant difference across the parameters in both the groups. It was interesting to note that the spectral and temporal measures in children with CI moved towards normal range. The findings uphold the importance of early rehabilitation in children with hearing impairment. The role of rehabilitation related aspects are also discussed in detail which can be clinically incorporated for the betterment of speech therapeutic services in children with CI.
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