Word tones cueing morphosyntactic structure: Neuroanatomical substrates and activation time-course assessed by EEG and fMRI
Previous studies distinguish between right hemisphere-dominant processing of prosodic/tonal information and left-hemispheric modulation of grammatical information as well as lexical tones. Swedish word accents offer a prime testing ground to better understand this division. Although similar to lexical tones, word accents are determined by words' morphosyntactic structure, which enables listeners to use the tone at the beginning of a word to predict its grammatical ending. We recorded electrophysiological and hemodynamic brain responses to words where stem tones matched or mismatched inflectional suffixes. Tones produced brain potential effects after 136ms, correlating with subject variability in average BOLD in left primary auditory cortex, superior temporal gyrus, and inferior frontal gyrus. Invalidly cued suffixes activated the left inferior parietal lobe, arguably reflecting increased processing cost of their meaning. Thus, interaction of word accent tones with grammatical morphology yielded a rapid neural response correlating in subject variability with activations in predominantly left-hemispheric brain areas.