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Brain Res. 2007 Jan 12;1128(1):148-56. Epub 2006 Nov 27.

Mismatch negativity to pitch contours is influenced by language experience.

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Department of Speech Language and Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, 1353 Heavilon Hall, 500 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2038, USA.


A cross-language study utilizing the mismatch negativity (MMN) evoked response was conducted to explore the influence of language experience on the preattentive cortical processing of linguistically relevant pitch contours. Chinese and English subjects were presented with Mandarin Chinese tones while the mismatch negativity (MMN) response was elicited using a passive oddball paradigm. Two oddball conditions were constructed with a common deviant, a low falling rising contour tone (T3). One condition consisted of two tones that are acoustically similar to one another (T2/T3: T2, high rising contour=standard). The other condition consisted of two tones that are acoustically dissimilar to one another (T1/T3: T1, high level=standard). These tonal pairs enabled us to assess whether different degrees of similarity between pitch movements exert a differential influence on preattentive pitch processing. Results showed that the mean MMN amplitude of the Chinese group was larger than that of the English group for the T1/T3 condition. No group differences were found for the T2/T3 condition. The mean MMN amplitude was larger for the T1/T3 relative to the T2/T3 condition for the Chinese group only. By virtue of these language group differences, we infer that early cortical processing of pitch contours may be shaped by the relative saliency of acoustic dimensions underlying the pitch patterns of a particular language.

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