Processing syntactic relations in language and music: an event-related potential study

J Cogn Neurosci. 1998 Nov;10(6):717-33. doi: 10.1162/089892998563121.


In order to test the language-specificity of a known neural correlate of syntactic processing [the P600 event-related brain potential (ERP) component], this study directly compared ERPs elicited by syntactic incongruities in language and music. Using principles of phrase structure for language and principles of harmony and key-relatedness for music, sequences were constructed in which an element was either congruous, moderately incongruous, or highly incongruous with the preceding structural context. A within-subjects design using 15 musically educated adults revealed that linguistic and musical structural incongruities elicited positivities that were statistically indistinguishable in a specified latency range. In contrast, a music-specific ERP component was observed that showed antero-temporal right-hemisphere lateralization. The results argue against the language-specificity of the P600 and suggest that language and music can be studied in parallel to address questions of neural specificity in cognitive processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Music*