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Journal Article

Lateralization of tonal and intonational pitch processing: An MEG study


Hagoort,  Peter
Neurobiology of Language Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;

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Fournier, R., Gussenhoven, C., Jensen, O., & Hagoort, P. (2010). Lateralization of tonal and intonational pitch processing: An MEG study. Brain Research, 1328, 79-88. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2010.02.053.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-6931-4
An MEG experiment was carried out in order to compare the processing of lexical-tonal and intonational contrasts, based on the tonal dialect of Roermond (the Netherlands). A set of words with identical phoneme sequences but distinct pitch contours, which represented different lexical meanings or discourse meanings (statement vs. question), were presented to native speakers as well as to a control group of speakers of Standard Dutch, a non-tone language. The stimuli were arranged in a mismatch paradigm, under three experimental conditions: in the first condition (lexical), the pitch contour differences between standard and deviant stimuli reflected differences between lexical meanings; in the second condition (intonational), the stimuli differed in their discourse meaning; in the third condition (combined), they differed both in their lexical and discourse meaning. In all three conditions, native as well as non-native responses showed a clear MMNm (magnetic mismatch negativity) in a time window from 150 to 250 ms after the divergence point of standard and deviant pitch contours. In the lexical condition, a stronger response was found over the left temporal cortex of native as well as non-native speakers. In the intonational condition, the same activation pattern was observed in the control group, but not in the group of native speakers, who showed a right-hemisphere dominance instead. Finally, in the combined (lexical and intonational) condition, brain reactions appeared to represent the summation of the patterns found in the other two conditions. In sum, the lateralization of pitch processing is condition-dependent in the native group only, which suggests that language experience determines how processes should be distributed over both temporal cortices, according to the functions available in the grammar.