Phonological markers of information structure: an fMRI study

Neuropsychologia. 2014 May;58:64-74. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.03.017. Epub 2014 Apr 12.


In this fMRI study we investigate the neural correlates of information structure integration during sentence comprehension in Dutch. We looked into how prosodic cues (pitch accents) that signal the information status of constituents to the listener (new information) are combined with other types of information during the unification process. The difficulty of unifying the prosodic cues into overall sentence meaning was manipulated by constructing sentences in which the pitch accent did (focus-accent agreement), and sentences in which the pitch accent did not (focus-accent disagreement) match the expectations for focus constituents of the sentence. In case of a mismatch, the load on unification processes increases. Our results show two anatomically distinct effects of focus-accent disagreement, one located in the posterior left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG, BA6/44), and one in the more anterior-ventral LIFG (BA 47/45). Our results confirm that information structure is taken into account during unification, and imply an important role for the LIFG in unification processes, in line with previous fMRI studies.

Keywords: Focus accent; Language comprehension; Left inferior frontal gyrus; Pitch accent; Reversed speech; Unification.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Semantics*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult