Neurophysiologic Correlates and Disorders of Lexical Tones Today, more than 1.3 billion people, accounting for roughly a quarter of the world’s population, speak at least one Chinese language natively. Chinese languages are tone languages. In addition, many languages in Africa, Asia, and the Americas use lexical tones. This does not include the related pitch accent languages, such ... Article
Article  |   June 01, 2005
Neurophysiologic Correlates and Disorders of Lexical Tones
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Patrick C.M. Wong
    Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Special Populations / Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Articles
Article   |   June 01, 2005
Neurophysiologic Correlates and Disorders of Lexical Tones
SIG 2 Perspectives on Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders, June 2005, Vol. 15, 15-19. doi:10.1044/nnsld15.2.15
SIG 2 Perspectives on Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders, June 2005, Vol. 15, 15-19. doi:10.1044/nnsld15.2.15
Today, more than 1.3 billion people, accounting for roughly a quarter of the world’s population, speak at least one Chinese language natively. Chinese languages are tone languages. In addition, many languages in Africa, Asia, and the Americas use lexical tones. This does not include the related pitch accent languages, such as those spoken in Japan and parts of Europe. Because the world is becoming increasingly multicultural, research and clinical tools for assessing and treating communicative deficits involving lexical tones are greatly warranted, even for parts of the world where traditionally nontone languages are spoken natively.
This article focuses on providing information about the basic science of lexical tone perception, production, and learning, and its potential clinical application. A better understanding of the neurophysiology of lexical tone contributes greatly to our understanding of the human nervous system. Specifically, lexical tones have been used as a tool for evaluating two views of cerebral organization (e.g., Wong, 2002). One view states that the brain is organized according to the functions of physical (acoustic) stimuli of the world, so that different brain areas are devoted to different functions, even though the same set of stimuli may be used to convey the different functions. Thus, the same pitch patterns, depending on whether they are used for lexical or nonlexical (e.g., musical) purposes, are subserved by different brain regions (e.g., left vs. right inferior frontal gyrus). In contrast to this functional view of cerebral organization is the acoustic view, which states that the brain is structured to attend to the different physical properties of the world, regardless of their functions, such that the same acoustic cue (e.g., pitch) is subserved by the same region (e.g., right inferior frontal gyrus), regardless of its functions (e.g., lexical vs. non-lexical). These two views are reminiscent of the anatomic-localization view (e.g., Broca, 1863) and the cognitive school of aphasia (e.g., Trousseau, 1865). The former argues that language is distinctly dominated by discrete brain areas, while the latter advocates that language is composed of different cognitive (and possibly sensory and motor) functions, which are themselves subserved by different brain regions. Current evidence from lexical tones research seems to support the functional view, although counter-evidence from other research studies also exists (e.g., Wong, Nusbaum, & Small, 2004).
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