JOURNAL ARTICLE

Left hemisphere lateralization for lexical and acoustic pitch processing in Cantonese speakers as revealed by mismatch negativity

Feng Gu, Caicai Zhang, Axu Hu, Guoping Zhao
NeuroImage 2013, 83: 637-45
23856710
For nontonal language speakers, speech processing is lateralized to the left hemisphere and musical processing is lateralized to the right hemisphere (i.e., function-dependent brain asymmetry). On the other hand, acoustic temporal processing is lateralized to the left hemisphere and spectral/pitch processing is lateralized to the right hemisphere (i.e., acoustic-dependent brain asymmetry). In this study, we examine whether the hemispheric lateralization of lexical pitch and acoustic pitch processing in tonal language speakers is consistent with the patterns of function- and acoustic-dependent brain asymmetry in nontonal language speakers. Pitch contrast in both speech stimuli (syllable /ji/ in Experiment 1) and nonspeech stimuli (harmonic tone in Experiment 1; pure tone in Experiment 2) was presented to native Cantonese speakers in passive oddball paradigms. We found that the mismatch negativity (MMN) elicited by lexical pitch contrast was lateralized to the left hemisphere, which is consistent with the pattern of function-dependent brain asymmetry (i.e., left hemisphere lateralization for speech processing) in nontonal language speakers. However, the MMN elicited by acoustic pitch contrast was also left hemisphere lateralized (harmonic tone in Experiment 1) or showed a tendency for left hemisphere lateralization (pure tone in Experiment 2), which is inconsistent with the pattern of acoustic-dependent brain asymmetry (i.e., right hemisphere lateralization for acoustic pitch processing) in nontonal language speakers. The consistent pattern of function-dependent brain asymmetry and the inconsistent pattern of acoustic-dependent brain asymmetry between tonal and nontonal language speakers can be explained by the hypothesis that the acoustic-dependent brain asymmetry is the consequence of a carryover effect from function-dependent brain asymmetry. Potential evolutionary implication of this hypothesis is discussed.

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