Mandarin language is music to the brain

December 12, 2006

It’s been shown that the left side of the brain processes language and the right side processes music; but what about a language like Mandarin Chinese, which is musical in nature with wide tonal ranges"

UC Irvine researcher Fan-Gang Zeng and Chinese colleagues studied brain scans of subjects as they listened to spoken Mandarin. They found that the brain processes the music, or pitch, of the words first in the right hemisphere before the left side of the brain processes the semantics, or meaning, of the information.

The results show that language processing is more complex than previously thought, and it gives clues to why people who use auditory prosthetic devices have difficulty understanding Mandarin. The study appears in this week’s online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the English language, Zeng says, changes in pitch dictate the difference between a spoken statement and question, or in mood, but the meaning of the words does not change. This is different in Mandarin, in which changes in pitch affect the meaning of words.

"Most cochlear implant devices lack the ability to register large tonal ranges, which is why these device users have difficulty enjoying music … or understanding a tonal language," says Zeng, a professor of otolaryngology, biomedical engineering, cognitive sciences, and anatomy and neurobiology.

In his hearing and speech lab at UCI, Zeng has made advances in cochlear implant development, discovering that enhancing the detection of frequency modulation (FM) significantly boosts the performance of many hearing aids devices by increasing tonal recognition, which is essential to hearing music and understanding certain spoken languages like Mandarin.

Source: University of California - Irvine

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Gene plays critical role in noise-induced deafness

October 19, 2018
In experiments using mice, a team of UC San Francisco researchers has discovered a gene that plays an essential role in noise-induced deafness. Remarkably, by administering an experimental chemical—identified in a separate ...

Scientists grow functioning human neural networks in 3-D from stem cells

October 18, 2018
A team of Tufts University-led researchers has developed three-dimensional (3-D) human tissue culture models for the central nervous system that mimic structural and functional features of the brain and demonstrate neural ...

Functional engineered oesophagus could pave way for clinical trials 

October 18, 2018
The world's first functional oesophagus engineered from stem cells has been grown and successfully transplanted into mice, as part of a pioneering new study led by UCL.

New findings cast light on lymphatic system, key player in human health

October 16, 2018
Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have broken new ground in understanding how the lymphatic system works, potentially opening the door for future therapies.

New model suggests cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitoring possible using pulse waves

October 16, 2018
A large team of researchers from several institutions in China and the U.S. has developed a model that suggests it should be possible to create a cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitor based on measuring pulse waves. ...

Age-related increase in estrogen may cause common men's hernia

October 16, 2018
An age-related increase in estrogen may be the culprit behind inguinal hernias, a condition common among elderly men that often requires corrective surgery, according to a Northwestern Medicine study was published Oct. 15 ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.