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Nat Neurosci. 1999 Feb;2(2):191-6.

Brain potentials indicate immediate use of prosodic cues in natural speech processing.

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Department of Neuropsychology, Max Planck Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Leipzig, Germany.


Spoken language, in contrast to written text, provides prosodic information such as rhythm, pauses, accents, amplitude and pitch variations. However, little is known about when and how these features are used by the listener to interpret the speech signal. Here we use event-related brain potentials (ERP) to demonstrate that intonational phrasing guides the initial analysis of sentence structure. Our finding of a positive shift in the ERP at intonational phrase boundaries suggests a specific on-line brain response to prosodic processing. Additional ERP components indicate that a false prosodic boundary is sufficient to mislead the listener's sentence processor. Thus, the application of ERP measures is a promising approach for revealing the time course and neural basis of prosodic information processing.

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