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J Neurolinguistics. 2015 Feb 1;33:128-148.

Language experience enhances early cortical pitch-dependent responses.

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Department of Speech Language Hearing Sciences, Purdue University.
School of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA.


Pitch processing at cortical and subcortical stages of processing is shaped by language experience. We recently demonstrated that specific components of the cortical pitch response (CPR) index the more rapidly-changing portions of the high rising Tone 2 of Mandarin Chinese, in addition to marking pitch onset and sound offset. In this study, we examine how language experience (Mandarin vs. English) shapes the processing of different temporal attributes of pitch reflected in the CPR components using stimuli representative of within-category variants of Tone 2. Results showed that the magnitude of CPR components (Na-Pb and Pb-Nb) and the correlation between these two components and pitch acceleration were stronger for the Chinese listeners compared to English listeners for stimuli that fell within the range of Tone 2 citation forms. Discriminant function analysis revealed that the Na-Pb component was more than twice as important as Pb-Nb in grouping listeners by language affiliation. In addition, a stronger stimulus-dependent, rightward asymmetry was observed for the Chinese group at the temporal, but not frontal, electrode sites. This finding may reflect selective recruitment of experience-dependent, pitch-specific mechanisms in right auditory cortex to extract more complex, time-varying pitch patterns. Taken together, these findings suggest that long-term language experience shapes early sensory level processing of pitch in the auditory cortex, and that the sensitivity of the CPR may vary depending on the relative linguistic importance of specific temporal attributes of dynamic pitch.


cortical pitch response; experience-dependent plasticity; functional asymmetry; iterated rippled noise; pitch; tone language

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