15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003


The Processing of Question-Intonation: An fMRI Study

Colin P. Doherty (1), W. Caroline West (1), Laura C. Redi (2), David Gow Jr (1), Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel (2), David Caplan (1)

(1) Massachusetts General Hospital, USA
(2) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

We examined changes in fMRI BOLD signal associated with question/statement judgments to investigate the neural basis of one aspect of intonation. Stimuli consisted of voice recordings of 150 sentences in English and white noise bursts in an event-related paradigm. Sentence types included pairs of lexically identical items, with a falling intonation for sentences (FS) and rising intonation for questions (RQ) and a third stimulus type with a falling intonation and a word order change creating a question (FQ). Functional echo planar imaging (EPI) scans were collected from 11 normal subjects who listened to stimuli and made question/statement judgments with a button press. Results reveal increased BOLD activity in bilateral inferior frontal and temporal regions for RQ over either FQ or FS indicating at the very least a robust processing of acoustic differences. The involvement of left frontal regions not thought to be involved in pitch determination may be a clue to categorical phonological processing. Increased BOLD activity in left lateral temporal regions for questions of any form (RQ or FQ) over FS indicates regions responsive to meaningful (illocutionary) differences between questions and statements.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Doherty, Colin P. / West, W. Caroline / Redi, Laura C. / Gow Jr, David / Shattuck-Hufnagel, Stefanie / Caplan, David (2003): "The processing of question-intonation: an fMRI study", In ICPhS-15, 1647-1650.