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Brain Res Bull. 2002 Oct 30;59(2):83-95.

Hemispheric specialization of linguistic pitch patterns.

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Department of Neurology, Brain Research Imaging Center, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Pitch is used to signal different aspects of language such as speaker identity, intonation, emphatic stress, and word identity (as signaled by lexical tones). This article reviews research studies investigating hemispheric specialization of these pitch patterns in the context of two competing hypotheses. The functional hypothesis states that pitch patterns are lateralized to different hemispheres of the brain depending on their functions. Those pitch patterns that carry a greater linguistic load (e.g., lexical tones) are lateralized to the left hemisphere, while those that carry a less linguistic load (e.g., intonation patterns signaling affective moods) are lateralized to the right hemisphere. The alternative hypothesis, the acoustic hypothesis, states that all pitch patterns, regardless of their functions, are lateralized to one hemisphere (the right hemisphere in particular). Although most researchers support the functional hypothesis, a comprehensive review, which includes lesion, dichotic-listening, and functional imaging studies of different types of pitch patterns, does not support this view. Moreover, little evidence exists for the alternative hypothesis. Possible methodological problems of these studies, alternative hypotheses, and considerations for future research are noted.

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