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Pitch modulates lexical identification in spoken word recognition: ERP and behavioral evidence.

Cognitive Brain Research
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Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded in cross-modal word fragment priming (CMWP) to address the function of pitch for the identification of spoken words. In CMWP fragments of spoken words (e.g., re taken from Regal [Engl. shelves]) are immediately followed by visual targets. Together with reduced reaction times (RTs), an ERP deflection named P350 has been found to be reduced for targets, which match the primes (e.g., in the prime-target pair re-REGAL) as compared to unrelated targets (e.g., re-WIRBEL [Engl. burble]). The P350 has been related to facilitated lexical identification [Friedrich, Kotz, Friederici and Gunter (in press), ERPs reflect lexical identification in word fragment priming, JOCN]. In the present study, we presented syllable primes with different pitch contours. One version of each prime bore a stressed pitch contour (e.g., re_1), the other an unstressed pitch contour (e.g., re_2). Primes were combined with targets being either stressed on the first syllable (e.g., REgel [Engl. rule]) or on the second syllable (e.g., reGAL [Engl. shelves]). We found a reduced amplitude of the P350 and slightly faster reactions for targets with a stress pattern that matched the pitch of the primes (e.g., re_1-REgel) as compared to targets with a stress pattern that did not match the pitch of the primes (e.g., re_1-reGAL). The present study replicates the P350 effect with different material, and indicates that pitch is used for lexical identification in spoken word recognition.

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