Is pitch accent necessary for comprehension by native Japanese speakers? - An ERP investigation

Katsuo Tamaoka, Nobuhiro Saito, Sachiko Kiyama, Kalinka Timmer, Rinus G. Verdonschot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Not unlike the tonal system in Chinese, Japanese habitually attaches pitch accents to the production of words. However, in contrast to Chinese, few homophonic word-pairs are really distinguished by pitch accents (Shibata & Shibata, 1990). This predicts that pitch accent plays a small role in lexical selection for Japanese language comprehension. The present study investigated whether native Japanese speakers necessarily use pitch accent in the processing of accent-contrasted homophonic pairs (e.g., ame [LH] for 'candy' and ame [HL] for 'rain') measuring electroencephalographic (EEG) potentials. Electrophysiological evidence (i.e., N400) was obtained when a word was semantically incorrect for a given context but not for incorrectly accented homophones. This suggests that pitch accent indeed plays a minor role when understanding Japanese.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-40
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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