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Neural correlates of intonation and lexical tone in tonal and non-tonal language speakers

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Chien,  Pei-Ju
Lise Meitner Research Group Cognition and Plasticity, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Friederici,  Angela D.
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Hartwigsen,  Gesa
Lise Meitner Research Group Cognition and Plasticity, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Sammler,  Daniela
Otto Hahn Group Neural Bases of Intonation in Speech, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Chien_Friederici_2020.pdf
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Citation

Chien, P.-J., Friederici, A. D., Hartwigsen, G., & Sammler, D. (2020). Neural correlates of intonation and lexical tone in tonal and non-tonal language speakers. Human Brain Mapping, 41(7), 1842-1858. doi:10.1002/hbm.24916.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-6D7F-4
Abstract
Intonation, the modulation of pitch in speech, is a crucial aspect of language that is processed in right‐hemispheric regions, beyond the classical left‐hemispheric language system. Whether or not this notion generalises across languages remains, however, unclear. Particularly, tonal languages are an interesting test case because of the dual linguistic function of pitch that conveys lexical meaning in form of tone, in addition to intonation. To date, only few studies have explored how intonation is processed in tonal languages, how this compares to tone and between tonal and non‐tonal language speakers. The present fMRI study addressed these questions by testing Mandarin and German speakers with Mandarin material. Both groups categorised mono‐syllabic Mandarin words in terms of intonation, tone, and voice gender. Systematic comparisons of brain activity of the two groups between the three tasks showed large cross‐linguistic commonalities in the neural processing of intonation in left fronto‐parietal, right frontal, and bilateral cingulo‐opercular regions. These areas are associated with general phonological, specific prosodic, and controlled categorical decision‐making processes, respectively. Tone processing overlapped with intonation processing in left fronto‐parietal areas, in both groups, but evoked additional activity in bilateral temporo‐parietal semantic regions and subcortical areas in Mandarin speakers only. Together, these findings confirm cross‐linguistic commonalities in the neural implementation of intonation processing but dissociations for semantic processing of tone only in tonal language speakers.