A crosslinguistic, positron emission tomography (PET) study was conducted to determine the influence of linguistic experience on the perception of segmental (consonants and vowels) and suprasegmental (tones) information. Chinese and English subjects (10 per group) were presented binaurally with lists consisting of five Chinese monosyllabic morphemes (speech) or low-pass-filtered versions of the same stimuli (nonspeech). The first and last items were targeted for comparison; the time interval between target tones was filled with irrelevant distractor tones. A speeded-response, selective attention paradigm required subjects to make discrimination judgments of the target items while ignoring intervening distractor tones. PET scans were acquired for five tasks presented twice: one passive listening to pitch (nonspeech) and four active (speech = consonant, vowel, and tone; nonspeech = pitch). Significant regional changes in blood flow were identified from comparisons of group-averaged images of active tasks relative to passive listening. Chinese subjects show increased activity in left premotor cortex, pars opercularis, and pars triangularis across the four tasks. English subjects, on the other hand, show increased activity in left inferior frontal gyrus regions only in the vowel task and in right inferior frontal gyrus regions in the pitch task. Findings suggest that functional circuits engaged in speech perception depend on linguistic experience. All linguistic information signaled by prosodic cues engages left-hemisphere mechanisms. Storage and executive processes of working memory that are implicated in phonological processing are mediated in discrete regions of the left frontal lobe.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.