The neural processing of pitch accents in continuous speech

Fernando Llanos, James S. German, G. Nike Gnanateja, Bharath Chandrasekaran*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Pitch accents are local pitch patterns that convey differences in word prominence and modulate the information structure of the discourse. Despite the importance to discourse in languages like English, neural processing of pitch accents remains understudied. The current study investigates the neural processing of pitch accents by native and non-native English speakers while they are listening to or ignoring 45 min of continuous, natural speech. Leveraging an approach used to study phonemes in natural speech, we analyzed thousands of electroencephalography (EEG) segments time-locked to pitch accents in a prosodic transcription. The optimal neural discrimination between pitch accent categories emerged at latencies between 100 and 200 ms. During these latencies, we found a strong structural alignment between neural and phonetic representations of pitch accent categories. In the same latencies, native listeners exhibited more robust processing of pitch accent contrasts than non-native listeners. However, these group differences attenuated when the speech signal was ignored. We can reliably capture the neural processing of discrete and contrastive pitch accent categories in continuous speech. Our analytic approach also captures how language-specific knowledge and selective attention influences the neural processing of pitch accent categories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107883
StatePublished - Jul 30 2021


  • Continuous speech
  • EEG
  • F0
  • Language experience
  • Pitch accents
  • Prosody
  • Selective attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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