Categorical perception of lexical tones in Chinese revealed by mismatch negativity

J. Xi, L. Zhang, H. Shu, Y. Zhang, P. Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


The present study investigated the neurophysiological correlates of categorical perception of Chinese lexical tones in Mandarin Chinese. Relative to standard stimuli, both within- and across-category deviants elicited mismatch negativity (MMN) in bilateral frontal-central recording sites. The MMN elicited in the right sites was marginally larger than in the left sites, which reflects the role of the right hemisphere in acoustic processing. At the same time, relative to within-category deviants, the across-category deviants elicited larger MMN in the left recording sites, reflecting the long-term phonemic traces of lexical tones. These results provide strong neurophysiological evidence in support of categorical perception of lexical tones in Chinese. More important, they demonstrate that acoustic and phonological information is processed in parallel within the MMN time window for the perception of lexical tones. Finally, homologous nonspeech stimuli elicited similar MMN patterns, indicating that lexical tone knowledge influences the perception of nonspeech signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-231
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research was supported by the Program for Changjiang Scholars and Innovative Research Team at Beijing Normal University , by grants from the Natural Science Foundation of Beijing ( 7092051 ) to HS and in part from the National Science Foundation of USA ( BCS#0642586 ) to PL. YZ was supported by a Single Semester Leave Award and two CLA Brain Imaging Research Awards from the University of Minnesota to work on the project. The authors thank four anonymous reviewers for suggestions to improve the manuscript.


  • Categorical perception
  • Lexical tones
  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Mismatch negativity (MMN)


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