LINGUIST List 14.1875

Mon Jul 7 2003

Disc: BBC Story: Mandarin & Brain Hemispheres

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1.>, BBC Mandarin story clarification

Message 1: BBC Mandarin story clarification

Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 09:57:20 +0100
From:> <>
Subject: BBC Mandarin story clarification

Re: Llinguist 14.1837 and Linguist 14.1864

I am not a member of this list but several people have been kind
enough to forward the messages posted about my study. Several
misconceptions seem to have been perpetuated, probably as this has
all come via news reports.

I need to emphasize that the BBC story was based on a press release,
and does not represent a piece of scientific writing, nor indeed
does it represent the emphasis of the original work. This press
release concerned an Exhibit I had at the Royal Society Summer
Science exhibition, and the study with Mandarin speakers featured as
part of this. The study was one of the neural basis of the
perceptual processing of Mandarin, a topic which I have been
studying in English for some time. We found that listening to
intelligible Mandarin (contrasted with an acoustically matched but
unintelligible baseline) results in the activation of both left and
right superior temporal sulci. English speakers listening to English
activate the left superior temporal sulcus in an analogous
contrast. The results survive a direct statistical comparison.

We studied Mandarin speakers from China as the long term goal is to do
a study of bilingual Mandarin/English speakers in Singapore. To do
this we needed some idea of what activation is seen in non bilingual
Mandarin speakers. This study was not intended to represent a single
comprehensive study of tonal lanuages, and indeed several other
researchers (Jack Gandour, Robert Zatorre) have looked into other
aspects of processing in tonal languages.

The 'interpretation' of these results with respect to 'difficulty' is
just that - a piece of journalistic intrepretation. It is certainly
not the point of the study.

very best wishes

Sophie Scott

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