Speech Prosody 2004

Nara, Japan
March 23-26, 2004

Brain Responses to Focus-Related Prosodic Mismatch in Japanese

Kiwako Ito (1), Susan M. Garnsey (2)

(1) Department of Linguistics, Ohio State University, Columbos, OH, USA
(2) Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA

WH-questions generally lead to intonational prominence on words carrying the inquired information (i.e. words under focus) in the answer. Past German studies have demonstrated that Event-Related-Potentials (ERPs) are sensitive measures of listeners’ reaction to such focus-related prosody [1, 2]. According to [2], missing expected accents on focused words in short German dialogues lead to posterior negativity, whereas unexpected accents on non-focused words do not evoke any particular ERP component. These findings suggest that prosodic information may be processed differently for focused words. In order to test whether the ERP patterns reported in [2] reflect universal or language-specific brain responses to prosodic information, a similar auditory ERP study was conducted in Japanese, which has a very different prosodic structure from German. The Japanese ERP data confirmed a distinction between the responses to focused and non-focused words: lack of intonational prominence for expectedly focused words led to (1) posterior positivity for the subject; and (2) non-significant, but widely observable anterior negativity for the object. Similarly to the German data, unexpected prominence for non-focused words did not invoke ERP differences in Japanese. Despite the discrepancy in which ERP components were observed in response to the absence of expected prominence in German and Japanese, the present results suggest the general principles of prosodic processing that distinguish focused words from non-focused words across languages.


  1. Steinhauer, K.; Alter, K.; Friederici, A. D., 1999. Brain responses indicate immediate use of prosodic cues in natural speech processing. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 191-196.
  2. Hruska, C.; Alter, K.; Steinhauer, K.; Steube, A., 2001. Misleading dialogues: Human’s brain reaction to prosodic information. Presented at ORAlité et GEstualité. Aix en Provence, France.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Ito, Kiwako / Garnsey, Susan M. (2004): "Brain responses to focus-related prosodic mismatch in Japanese", In SP-2004, 609-612.