Cortical and subcortical processing of pitch in infants and adults
Pitch is used for different purposes in different languages. Many studies have shown that speakers of a non-tone languages are not so good at categorising and discriminating pitch patterns taken from a tone language as native speakers of the tone language or speakers of another tone language. This is however a very surprising finding given that speakers of a non-tone language also use pitch extensively in daily communication.
In a joint project with Patrick Wong's lab at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, we address the question of how different types of experience with pitch (lexical vs. post-lexical) shape how infants’ and adults’ process pitch in the brain. In particular, we investigate infants’ and adults' sensitivity to pitch patterns and ability to track pitch patterns in Dutch and Cantonese at both the cortical and sub-cortical level. The pitch patterns of interest are rises and falls that are common in both Dutch and Cantonese but differ in certain phonetic dimensions. At the cortical level, we examine listeners’ sensitivity to pitch via mismatch negativity (MMN). At the sub-cortical level, we study listeners’ neural representation of pitch by examining the scalp-recorded auditory evoked potentials at the auditory brainstem, known as Frequency-following-responses (FFR).