IMR Press / JIN / Volume 20 / Issue 1 / DOI: 10.31083/j.jin.2021.01.301
Open Access Brief Report
Processing neutral tone under the non-attentional condition: a mismatch negativity study
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1 School of International Studies, Yangzhou University, Yangzhou, 225127 Jiangsu Province, P. R. China
2 School of Educational Sciences, Liaocheng University, Liaocheng, 252000 Shandong Province, P. R. China
*Correspondence: (Lun Zhao)
These authors contributed equally.
J. Integr. Neurosci. 2021, 20(1), 131–136;
Submitted: 27 September 2020 | Revised: 28 November 2020 | Accepted: 25 December 2020 | Published: 30 March 2021
Copyright: © 2021 The Authors. Published by IMR Press.
This is an open access article under the CC BY 4.0 license (

The neutral tone is a unique tone form in Mandarin as it distinguishes from four canonical tones or full tones on the one hand and integrates phonetic, morphological, syntactical and prosodic information on the other hand. Research to date has been focusing on its unique and variant acoustic features. However, little is known about how native Mandarin speakers process such a unique tone. In the present study, the mismatch negativity was used to explore the comparison-based pre-attentive change detection of Mandarin neutral tone. The mismatch negativity at the time window of 400-800 ms post-first-tone onset was obtained by subtracting event-related potentials to standard neutral tone from event-related potentials to a deviant natural tone. The source analysis of mismatch negativity showed the cortex generator was located at the left temporal lobe. The data suggest that Chinese native speakers process neutral tone automatically under non-attentional conditions, as revealed by the mismatch negativity data aligned with a neutral tone, and that neutral tone does exist as an automatically recognizable one in native Mandarin speakers’ tone system.

Neutral tone
Pre-attentive processing
Event-related potentials
Mismatch negativity
Fig. 1.
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