Speech prosody refers to melodic or suprasegmental features of an utterance (e.g. pitch) that may signal a variety of linguistic and paralinguistic functions (Lehiste, 1996). Over the last quarter century, increasing attention has been focused on the roles of the left (LH) and right (RH) cerebral hemispheres in the processing of prosodic information. Evidence has been steadily accumulating in the dichotic listening (Shipley-Brown et al., 1988), lesion deficit (Baum & Pell, 1999) and brain imaging (Meyer, Alter & Friederici, 2003; Plante, Creusere & Sabin, 2002) literature implicating the RH in the perception of prosodic units assigned to phrase- and sentence-level structures. Dichotic listening (Wang, Jongman & Sereno, 2001) and lesion deficit (Gandour, 1998a, b; Wong, 2002) data from tone languages point to LH and RH lateralization, respectively, for tonal and affective information. This chapter presents an overview of research findings from positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies on the perception of Chinese speech prosody (see Buckner & Logan, 2001; Rugg, 1999, for tutorials on hemodynamic methods of brain imaging).
Background and significance
The underlying basis for hemispheric asymmetry of speech perception is controversial (see Ivry & Robertson, 1998; Poeppel, 2003; Zatorre & Belin, 2001; Zatorre, Belin & Penhune, 2002, for recent reviews). One view is that the LH is specialized for speech as opposed to other complex auditory signals.