The Functional Neuroanatomy of Lexical Tone Perception: An Activation Likelihood Estimation Meta-Analysis.
ABSTRACT: In tonal language such as Chinese, lexical tone serves as a phonemic feature in determining word meaning. Meanwhile, it is close to prosody in terms of suprasegmental pitch variations and larynx-based articulation. The important yet mixed nature of lexical tone has evoked considerable studies, but no consensus has been reached on its functional neuroanatomy. This meta-analysis aimed at uncovering the neural network of lexical tone perception in comparison with that of phoneme and prosody in a unified framework. Independent Activation Likelihood Estimation meta-analyses were conducted for different linguistic elements: lexical tone by native tonal language speakers, lexical tone by non-tonal language speakers, phoneme, word-level prosody, and sentence-level prosody. Results showed that lexical tone and prosody studies demonstrated more extensive activations in the right than the left auditory cortex, whereas the opposite pattern was found for phoneme studies. Only tonal language speakers consistently recruited the left anterior superior temporal gyrus (STG) for processing lexical tone, an area implicated in phoneme processing and word-form recognition. Moreover, an anterior-lateral to posterior-medial gradient of activation as a function of element timescale was revealed in the right STG, in which the activation for lexical tone lied between that for phoneme and that for prosody. Another topological pattern was shown on the left precentral gyrus (preCG), with the activation for lexical tone overlapped with that for prosody but ventral to that for phoneme. These findings provide evidence that the neural network for lexical tone perception is hybrid with those for phoneme and prosody. That is, resembling prosody, lexical tone perception, regardless of language experience, involved right auditory cortex, with activation localized between sites engaged by phonemic and prosodic processing, suggesting a hierarchical organization of representations in the right auditory cortex. For tonal language speakers, lexical tone additionally engaged the left STG lexical mapping network, consistent with the phonemic representation. Similarly, when processing lexical tone, only tonal language speakers engaged the left preCG site implicated in prosody perception, consistent with tonal language speakers having stronger articulatory representations for lexical tone in the laryngeal sensorimotor network. A dynamic dual-stream model for lexical tone perception was proposed and discussed.
Project description:In tonal languages such as Chinese, lexical tone with varying pitch contours serves as a key feature to provide contrast in word meaning. Similar to phoneme processing, behavioral studies have suggested that Chinese tone is categorically perceived. However, its underlying neural mechanism remains poorly understood. By conducting cortical surface recordings in surgical patients, we revealed a cooperative cortical network along with its dynamics responsible for this categorical perception. Based on an oddball paradigm, we found amplified neural dissimilarity between cross-category tone pairs, rather than between within-category tone pairs, over cortical sites covering both the ventral and dorsal streams of speech processing. The bilateral superior temporal gyrus (STG) and the middle temporal gyrus (MTG) exhibited increased response latencies and enlarged neural dissimilarity, suggesting a ventral hierarchy that gradually differentiates the acoustic features of lexical tones. In addition, the bilateral motor cortices were also found to be involved in categorical processing, interacting with both the STG and the MTG and exhibiting a response latency in between. Moreover, the motor cortex received enhanced Granger causal influence from the semantic hub, the anterior temporal lobe, in the right hemisphere. These unique data suggest that there exists a distributed cooperative cortical network supporting the categorical processing of lexical tone in tonal language speakers, not only encompassing a bilateral temporal hierarchy that is shared by categorical processing of phonemes but also involving intensive speech-motor interactions over the right hemisphere, which might be the unique machinery responsible for the reliable discrimination of tone identities.
Project description:The neural systems of lexical tone processing have been studied for many years. However, previous findings have been mixed with regard to the hemispheric specialization for the perception of linguistic pitch patterns in native speakers of tonal language. In this study, we performed two activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analyses, one on neuroimaging studies of auditory processing of lexical tones in tonal languages (17 studies), and the other on auditory processing of lexical information in non-tonal languages as a control analysis for comparison (15 studies). The lexical tone ALE analysis showed significant brain activations in bilateral inferior prefrontal regions, bilateral superior temporal regions and the right caudate, while the control ALE analysis showed significant cortical activity in the left inferior frontal gyrus and left temporo-parietal regions. However, we failed to obtain significant differences from the contrast analysis between two auditory conditions, which might be caused by the limited number of studies available for comparison. Although the current study lacks evidence to argue for a lexical tone specific activation pattern, our results provide clues and directions for future investigations on this topic, more sophisticated methods are needed to explore this question in more depth as well.
Project description: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.
Project description:Discrete phonological phenomena form our conscious experience of language: continuous changes in pitch appear as distinct tones to the speakers of tone languages, whereas the speakers of quantity languages experience duration categorically. The categorical nature of our linguistic experience is directly reflected in the traditionally clear-cut linguistic classification of languages into tonal or non-tonal. However, some evidence suggests that duration and pitch are fundamentally interconnected and co-vary in signaling word meaning in non-tonal languages as well. We show that pitch information affects real-time language processing in a (non-tonal) quantity language. The results suggest that there is no unidirectional causal link from a genetically-based perceptual sensitivity towards pitch information to the appearance of a tone language. They further suggest that the contrastive categories tone and quantity may be based on simultaneously co-varying properties of the speech signal and the processing system, even though the conscious experience of the speakers may highlight only one discrete variable at a time.
Project description:In present-day Seoul Korean, the primary phonetic feature for the lenis-aspirated stop distinction is shifting from VOT to F0. Some previous studies have considered this sound change to be a tonogenesis, whereby the low-level F0 perturbation has developed into tonal features (L for the lenis and H for the aspirated) in the segmental phonology. They, however, have examined the stop distinction only at a phrase- or utterance-initial position. We newly explore the sound change in relation to various prosodic structural factors (position and prominence). Apparent-time production data were recorded from four speaker groups: young female, young male, old female, old male. The way the speakers use VOT versus F0 indeed varies as a function of position and prominence. Crucially, in all groups, VOT is still used for the lenis-aspirated distinction phrase-medially due to the lenis stop voicing. This role of VOT, however, is found only in the non-prominent (unfocused) condition, in which the F0 difference is reduced to a low-level perturbation effect. In the prominent (focused) context in which tones come into play, the role of VOT diminishes, led by young female speakers. These can be interpreted as a prosodically-conditioned, complementary use of the features to maintain sufficient contrast. Importantly, however, the tonal difference under focus is not bidirectionally polarized, so that F0 is not lowered for the lenis stop. A lack of direct enhancement of the distinctive L tone weakens a possibility that F0 is transphonologized to the phonemic feature system of the language. As an alternative to the view that tonal features are newly introduced in the segmental phonology, we propose a prosodic account: the sound change is best characterized as a prosodically-conditioned change in the use of the segmental voicing feature (implemented by VOT) versus already available post-lexical tones in the intonational phonology of Korean.
Project description:PURPOSE:To investigate if, regardless of language background (tonal or non-tonal), musicians may show stronger CP than non-musicians; To examine if native speakers of English (English or non-tonal musicians henceforth) or Mandarin Chinese (Mandarin or tonal musicians henceforth) can better accommodate multiple functions of the same acoustic cue and if musicians' sensitivity to pitch of lexical tones comes at the cost of slower processing. METHOD:English and Mandarin Musicians and non-musicians performed a categorical identification and a discrimination task on rising and falling continua of fundamental frequency on two vowels with 9 duration values. RESULTS:Non-tonal musicians exhibited significantly stronger categorical perception of pitch contour than non-tonal non-musicians. However, tonal musicians did not consistently perceive the two types of pitch directions more categorically than tonal non-musicians. Both tonal and non-tonal musicians also benefited more from increasing stimulus duration in processing pitch changes than non-musicians and they generally require less time for pitch processing. Musicians were also more sensitive to intrinsic F0 in pitch perception and differences of pitch types. CONCLUSION:The effect of musical training strengthens categorical perception more consistently in non-tonal speakers than tonal speakers. Overall, musicians benefit more from increased stimulus duration, due perhaps to their greater sensitivity to temporal information, thus allowing them to be better at forming a more robust auditory representation and matching sounds to internalized memory templates. Musicians also attended more to acoustic details such as intrinsic F0 and pitch types in pitch processing, and yet, overall, their categorization of pitch was not compromised by traces of these acoustic details from their auditory short-term working memory. These findings may lead to a better understanding of pitch perception deficits in special populations, particularly among individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Project description:While words are distinguished primarily by consonants and vowels in many languages, tones are also used in the majority of the world's languages to cue lexical contrasts. However, studies on novel word learning have largely concentrated on consonants and vowels. To shed more light on the use of tonal information in novel word learning and its relationship with the development of phonological categories, the present study explored how adults' ability to learn minimal pair pseudowords in a tone language is modulated by their native phonological knowledge. Twenty-four adult speakers of three languages were tested: Cantonese, Mandarin, and French. Eye-tracking was used to record eye movements of these learners, while they were watching animated cartoons in Cantonese. On each trial, adults had to learn two new label-object associations, while the labels differed minimally by a consonant, a vowel, or a tone. Learning would therefore attest to participants' ability to use phonological information to distinguish the paired words. Results first revealed that adult learners in each language group performed better than chance in all conditions. Moreover, compared to native Cantonese adults, both Mandarin- and French-speaking adults performed worse on all three contrasts. In addition, French adults were worse on tones when compared to Mandarin adults. Lastly, no advantage for consonantal information in native lexical processing was found for Cantonese-speaking adults as predicted by the "division of labor" proposal, thus confirming crosslinguistic differences in consonant/vowel weight between speakers of tonal vs. non-tonal languages. These findings establish rapid novel word learning in a non-native language (long-term learning will have to be further assessed), modulated by native phonological knowledge. The implications of the findings of this adult study for further infant word learning studies are discussed.
Project description:How language has evolved into more than 7000 varieties today remains a question that puzzles linguists, anthropologists, and evolutionary scientists. The genetic-biasing hypothesis of language evolution postulates that genes and language features coevolve, such that a population that is genetically predisposed to perceiving a particular linguistic feature would tend to adopt that feature in their language. Statistical studies that correlated a large number of genetic variants and linguistic features not only generated this hypothesis but also specifically pinpointed a linkage between ASPM and lexical tone. However, there is currently no direct evidence for this association and, therefore, the hypothesis. In an experimental study, we provide evidence to link ASPM with lexical tone perception in a sample of over 400 speakers of a tone language. In addition to providing the first direct evidence for the genetic-biasing hypothesis, our results have implications for further studies of linguistic anthropology and language disorders.
Project description:Languages can use a common repertoire of vocal sounds to signify distinct meanings. In tonal languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, pitch contours of syllables distinguish one word from another, whereas in non-tonal languages, such as English, pitch is used to convey intonation. The neural computations underlying language specialization in speech perception are unknown. Here, we use a cross-linguistic approach to address this. Native Mandarin- and English- speaking participants each listened to both Mandarin and English speech, while neural activity was directly recorded from the non-primary auditory cortex. Both groups show language-general coding of speaker-invariant pitch at the single electrode level. At the electrode population level, we find language-specific distribution of cortical tuning parameters in Mandarin speakers only, with enhanced sensitivity to Mandarin tone categories. Our results show that speech perception relies upon a shared cortical auditory feature processing mechanism, which may be tuned to the statistics of a given language.
Project description:Music and language have long been considered two distinct cognitive faculties governed by domain-specific cognitive and neural mechanisms. Recent work into the domain-specificity of pitch processing in both domains appears to suggest pitch processing to be governed by shared neural mechanisms. The current study aimed to explore the domain-specificity of pitch processing by simultaneously presenting pitch contours in speech and music to speakers of a tonal language, and measuring behavioral response and event-related potentials (ERPs). Native speakers of Mandarin were exposed to concurrent pitch contours in melody and speech. Contours in melody emulated those in speech were either congruent or incongruent with the pitch contour of the lexical tone (i.e., rising or falling). Component magnitudes of the N2b and N400 were used as indices of lexical processing. We found that the N2b was modulated by melodic pitch; incongruent item evoked significantly stronger amplitude. There was a trend of N400 to be modulated in the same way. Interestingly, these effects were present only on rising tones. Amplitude and time-course of the N2b and N400 may suggest an interference of melodic pitch contours with both early and late stages of phonological and semantic processing.