Language experience can alter perceptual abilities and the neural specialization for phonological contrasts. Here we investigated whether dialectal differences in the lexical use of pitch information lead to differences in functional lateralization for pitch processing. We measured cortical hemodynamic responses to pitch pattern changes in native speakers of Standard (Tokyo) Japanese, which has a lexical pitch accent system, and native speakers of 'accentless' dialects, which do not have any lexical tonal phenomena. While the Standard Japanese speakers showed left-dominant responses in temporal regions to pitch pattern changes within words, the accentless dialects speakers did not show such left-dominance. Pitch pattern changes within harmonic-complex tones also elicited different brain activation patterns between the two groups. These results indicate that the neural processing of pitch information differs depending on the listener's native dialect, and that listeners' linguistic experiences may further affect the processing of pitch changes even for non-linguistic sounds.
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