Li, X., Yang, Y., & Hagoort, P. (2008). Pitch accent and lexical tone processing in Chinese discourse comprehension: An ERP study. Brain Research,1222, 192-200. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2008.05.031.
In the present study, event-related brain potentials (ERP) were recorded to investigate the role of pitch accent and lexical tone in spoken discourse comprehension. Chinese was used as material to explore the potential difference in the nature and time course of brain responses to sentence meaning as indicated by pitch accent and to lexical meaning as indicated by tone. In both cases, the pitch contour of critical words was varied. The results showed that both inconsistent pitch accent and inconsistent lexical tone yielded N400 effects, and there was no interaction between them. The negativity evoked by inconsistent pitch accent had the some topography as that evoked by inconsistent lexical tone violation, with a maximum over central–parietal electrodes. Furthermore, the effect for the combined violations was the sum of effects for pure pitch accent and pure lexical tone violation. However, the effect for the lexical tone violation appeared approximately 90 ms earlier than the effect of the pitch accent violation. It is suggested that there might be a correspondence between the neural mechanism underlying pitch accent and lexical meaning processing in context. They both reflect the integration of the current information into a discourse context, independent of whether the current information was sentence meaning indicated by accentuation, or lexical meaning indicated by tone. In addition, lexical meaning was processed earlier than sentence meaning conveyed by pitch accent during spoken language processing.