Did you know that Swedish and Norwegian have word melodies similar to Chinese? The article ‘A neurolinguistic study of South Swedish word accents: Electrical brain potentials in nouns and verbs‘ reports on previously unexplored brain responses to word tones in South Swedish.
The study adds strong support to the hypothesis that listeners use Swedish word stem tones to preactivate upcoming suffixes. Previous research had consistently found an increase in electrical brain response for one of the Swedish stem tones – accent 1 – as compared to the other tone – accent 2.
This increase in electrical brain response is thought to index preactivation of upcoming language, such as a suffix. Accent 1 stems are associated with fewer possible outcomes, and are therefore thought to increase the certainty of how a word might end. However, previously only the Central Swedish dialect had been investigated, and therefore it was uncertain whether the effect found was really due to the difference in possibilities associated with accent 1 and 2, or rather the acoustic difference between the tones.
In South Swedish, accent tones 1 and 2 are acoustically the mirror image of those in Central Swedish. Still, accent 1 produced a reaction indicating that the electrical brain response seems to reflect preactivation of upcoming suffixes, rather than a difference in acoustic processing.