An academic dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics at Stockholm University by Hatice Zora was publicly defended on Friday 2 December 2016 at 14:00 in hörsal 9, hus D, Universitetsvägen 10 D.

Download the thesis from DiVA (Academic Archive On-line)


Lexical access, the matching of auditory information onto lexical representations in the brain, is a crucial component of online language processing. To understand the nature of lexical access, it is important to identify the kind of acoustic information that is stored in the long-term memory and to study how the brain uses such information. This dissertation investigates the contribution of prosodic information to lexical access and examines language-specific processing mechanisms by studying three typologically distinct languages: English, Turkish, and Swedish. The main research objective is to demonstrate the activation of long-term memory traces for words on the sole basis of prosodic information and to test the accuracy of typological phonological descriptions suggested in the literature by studying electrophysiological measurements of brain activation. A secondary research objective is to evaluate three distinct electrophysiological recording systems. The dissertation is based on three papers, each examining neural responses to prosodic changes in one of the three languages with a different recording system. The first two papers deal directly with the interplay between prosody and the lexicon, and investigate whether prosodic changes activate memory traces associated with segmentally identical but prosodically different words; the third paper introduces morphology to this process and investigates whether prosodic changes activate memory traces associated with potential lexical derivations. Neural responses demonstrate that prosodic information indeed activates memory traces associated with words and their potential derivations without any given context. Strongly connected neural networks are argued to guarantee neural activation and implementation of long-term memory traces. Regardless of differences in prosodic typology, all languages exploit prosodic information for lexical processing, although to different extents. The amount of neural activation elicited by a particular piece of prosodic information is positively correlated with the strength of its lexical representation in the brain, which is called lexical specification. This dissertation could serve as a first step towards building an electrophysiological-perceptual taxonomy of prosodic processing based on lexical specification.

Opponent: Valéria Csépe, Professor at Brain Imaging Centre, Research Centre for Natural Sciences of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Thesis committee:

Supervisors: Mattias Heldner and Iris-Corinna Schwarz