Categories and gradience in intonation: A functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging study

Brechtje Post, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Iwo Bohr, Francis Nolan, Christopher Cummins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The Autosegmental-Metrical framework (AM) assumes that a distinction needs to be made between linguistic phonological information (categorical) and paralinguistic phonetic information (gradient) in intonation. However, empirical evidence supporting this assumption has proved to be elusive so far. In this study we analysed whether the theoretical distinction is reflected in perceptual biases and neural activation in the brain. The results of a combined behavioural and neuroimaging study demonstrate that intonational function indeed activates different but overlapping neural networks with more widespread activation for categorical phonological stimuli, especially in middle temporal gyrus bilaterally and left supramarginal and inferior parietal areas. In contrast, for paralinguistic gradient stimuli activation is restricted to right inferior frontal gyrus. These neural differences mirror differences in response times in a listening experiment testing categorical perception for the same stimuli. These findings support a theoretical model of intonation, such as AM, in which linguistic and paralinguistic information are distinguished.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Phonetics-Phonology Interface
Subtitle of host publicationRepresentations and methodologies
EditorsJoaquin Romero, Maria Riera
PublisherJohn Benjamins
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9789027268105
ISBN (Print)978902724854
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • romance linguistics
  • phonology
  • phonetics
  • theoretical linguistics


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