The present study examines the neural substrates for the perception of speech rhythm and intonation. Subjects listened passively to synthesized speech stimuli that contained no semantic and phonological information, in three conditions: (1) continuous speech stimuli with fixed syllable duration and fundamental frequency in the standard condition, (2) stimuli with varying vocalic durations of syllables in the speech rhythm condition, and (3) stimuli with varying fundamental frequency in the intonation condition. Compared to the standard condition, speech rhythm activated the right middle superior temporal gyrus (mSTG), whereas intonation activated the bilateral superior temporal gyrus and sulcus (STG/STS) and the right posterior STS. Conjunction analysis further revealed that rhythm and intonation activated a common area in the right mSTG but compared to speech rhythm, intonation elicited additional activations in the right anterior STS. Findings from the current study reveal that the right mSTG plays an important role in prosodic processing. Implications of our findings are discussed with respect to neurocognitive theories of auditory processing.
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