Intonational speech prosody encoding in the human auditory cortex

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Abstract

Speakers of all human languages regularly use intonational pitch to convey linguistic meaning, such as to emphasize a particular word. Listeners extract pitch movements from speech and evaluate the shape of intonation contours independent of each speaker’s pitch range. We used high-density electrocorticography to record neural population activity directly from the brain surface while participants listened to sentences that varied in intonational pitch contour, phonetic content, and speaker. Cortical activity at single electrodes over the human superior temporal gyrus selectively represented intonation contours. These electrodes were intermixed with, yet functionally distinct from, sites that encoded different information about phonetic features or speaker identity. Furthermore, the representation of intonation contours directly reflected the encoding of speaker-normalized relative pitch but not absolute pitch.

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