Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The melodic contour of speech forms an important perceptual aspect of tonal and nontonal languages and an important limiting factor on the intelligibility of speech heard through a cochlear implant. Previous work exploring the neural correlates of speech comprehension identified a left-dominant pathway in the temporal lobes supporting the extraction of an intelligible linguistic message, whereas the right anterior temporal lobe showed an overall preference for signals clearly conveying dynamic pitch information [Johnsrude, I. S., Penhune, V. B., & Zatorre, R. J. Functional specificity in the right human auditory cortex for perceiving pitch direction. Brain, 123, 155–163, 2000; Scott, S. K., Blank, C. C., Rosen, S., & Wise, R. J. Identification of a pathway for intelligible speech in the left temporal lobe. Brain, 123, 2400–2406, 2000]. The current study combined modulations of overall intelligibility (through vocoding and spectral inversion) with a manipulation of pitch contour (normal vs. falling) to investigate the processing of spoken sentences in functional MRI. Our overall findings replicate and extend those of Scott et al. [Scott, S. K., Blank, C. C., Rosen, S., & Wise, R. J. Identification of a pathway for intelligible speech in the left temporal lobe. Brain, 123, 2400–2406, 2000], where greater sentence intelligibility was predominately associated with increased activity in the left STS, and the greatest response to normal sentence melody was found in right superior temporal gyrus. These data suggest a spatial distinction between brain areas associated with intelligibility and those involved in the processing of dynamic pitch information in speech. By including a set of complexity-matched unintelligible conditions created by spectral inversion, this is additionally the first study reporting a fully factorial exploration of spectrotemporal complexity and spectral inversion as they relate to the neural processing of speech intelligibility. Perhaps surprisingly, there was little evidence for an interaction between the two factors—we discuss the implications for the processing of sound and speech in the dorsolateral temporal lobes.