Volume of Left Heschl's Gyrus and Linguistic Pitch Learning


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Abstract

Research on the contributions of the human nervous system to language processing and learning has generally been focused on the association regions of the brain without considering the possible contribution of primary and adjacent sensory areas. We report a study examining the relationship between the anatomy of Heschl's Gyrus (HG), which includes predominately primary auditory areas and is often found to be associated with nonlinguistic pitch processing and language learning. Unlike English, most languages of the world use pitch patterns to signal word meaning. In the present study, native English-speaking adult subjects learned to incorporate foreign pitch patterns in word identification. Subjects who were less successful in learning showed a smaller HG volume on the left (especially gray matter volume), but not on the right, relative to learners who were successful. These results suggest that HG, typically shown to be associated with the processing of acoustic cues in nonspeech processing, is also involved in speech learning. These results also suggest that primary auditory regions may be important for encoding basic acoustic cues during the course of spoken language learning.

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