Processing Cantonese lexical tones: Evidence from oddball paradigms

S. Jia, Yiu Kei TSANG, J. Huang, H. C. Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Two event-related potential (ERP) experiments were conducted to investigate whether Cantonese lexical tones are processed with general auditory perception mechanisms and/or a special speech module. Two tonal features (f0 direction and f0 height deviation) were manipulated to reflect acoustic processing, and the contrast between syllables and hums was used to reveal the involvement of a speech module. Experiment 1 adopted a passive oddball paradigm to study a relatively early stage of tonal processing. Mismatch negativity (MMN) and novelty P3 (P3a) were modulated by the interaction between tonal feature and stimulus type. Similar interactions were found for N2 and P3 in Experiment 2, where more in-depth tonal processing was examined with an active oddball paradigm. Moreover, detecting tonal deviants of syllables elicited N1 and P2 that were not found in hum detection. Together, these findings suggest that the processing of lexical tone relies on both acoustic and linguistic processes from the early stage. Another noteworthy finding is the absence of brain lateralization in both experiments, which challenges the use of a lateralization pattern as evidence for processing lexical tones through a special speech module.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-360
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • ERPs
  • Lexical tone processing
  • Passive/active oddball


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