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date: 20 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Prosody is a unique feature of spoken language and can be conceived as an umbrella term that covers several modulations of acoustic speech signals which mark paralinguistic information—namely stress, sentence accent, sentence mode, and phrasing—which are highly correlated with the semantic, syntactic, phonological organization and emotional tone of spoken and signed languages all over the world. Neuropsychological and neuroimaging research has grossly attributed prosodic functions to the right hemisphere (RH) of the human brain. The RH has been historically considered the site of emotions and this view is still the foundation of the widely held belief that prosody is primarily emotional in origin and nature. This chapter means to replace this ancient view by an innovative, parameter-based approach that considers prosody as an acoustic modulator that primarily serves as a cardinal structuring device to chunk suprasegmental units in spoken language. The chapter offers evidence from recent research that shows how the human brain exploits prosodic cues in spoken language during language acquisition, processing of foreign languages, and language processing under aversive listening conditions (e.g. age-related hearing loss). More importantly, it sketches how the human brain processes suprasegmental information during prelexical stages of language comprehension. In support of this view lies in the stunning fit between functional lateralization of computing prosodic cues and neuroanatomical asymmetry of auditory-related cortex (PARC). Finally, the chapter describes the essential role that prosodic modulations play in spoken language during early infancy and older age.

Keywords: prosody, suprasegmental speech, posterior auditory-related cortex, cortical entrainment, acoustic modulation

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