While listening to continuous speech, humans process beat information to correctly identify word boundaries. The beats of language are stress patterns that are created by combining lexical (word-specific) stress patterns and the rhythm of a specific language. Sometimes, the lexical stress pattern needs to be altered to obey the rhythm of the language. This study investigated the interplay of lexical stress patterns and rhythmical well-formedness in natural speech with fMRI. Previous electrophysiological studies on cases in which a regular lexical stress pattern may be altered to obtain rhythmical well-formedness showed that even subtle rhythmic deviations are detected by the brain if attention is directed toward prosody. Here, we present a new approach to this phenomenon by having participants listen to contextually rich stories in the absence of a task targeting the manipulation. For the interaction of lexical stress and rhythmical well-formedness, we found one suprathreshold cluster localized between the cerebellum and the brain stem. For the main effect of lexical stress, we found higher BOLD responses to the retained lexical stress pattern in the bilateral SMA, bilateral postcentral gyrus, bilateral middle fontal gyrus, bilateral inferior and right superior parietal lobule, and right precuneus. These results support the view that lexical stress is processed as part of a sensorimotor network of speech comprehension. Moreover, our results connect beat processing in language to domain-independent timing perception.

You do not currently have access to this content.