Distinct Frontal Regions Subserve Evaluation of Linguistic and Emotional Aspects of Speech Intonation


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Abstract

In addition to the propositional content of verbal utterances, significant linguistic and emotional information is conveyed by the tone of speech. To differentiate brain regions subserving processing of linguistic and affective aspects of intonation, discrimination of sentences differing in linguistic accentuation and emotional expressiveness was evaluated by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Both tasks yielded rightward lateralization of hemodynamic responses at the level of the dorsolateral frontal cortex as well as bilateral thalamic and temporal activation. Processing of linguistic and affective intonation, thus, seems to be supported by overlapping neural networks comprising partially right-sided brain regions. Comparison of hemodynamic activation during the two different tasks, however, revealed bilateral orbito-frontal responses restricted to the affective condition as opposed to activation of the left lateral inferior frontal gyrus confined to evaluation of linguistic intonation. These findings indicate that distinct frontal regions contribute to higher level processing of intonational information depending on its communicational function. In line with other components of language processing, discrimination of linguistic accentuation seems to be lateralized to the left inferior-lateral frontal region whereas bilateral orbito-frontal areas subserve evaluation of emotional expressiveness.

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