Yang Zhang

The acquisition of language skills is a quintessential human characteristic reflecting how the brain reinvents itself in endless possibilities through symbolic representations. Despite maturational and age constraints, the brain possesses amazingly versatile computational power to adapt quickly and rewire itself in response to internal changes, structural insult, external stimulation, and learning experience. The overall goal of research in the Zhang Lab is to characterize brain plasticity across the life span and define more clearly what the neural signature markers are for normal and pathological development of speech and language. An integrative approach is pursued: (a) top-down brain imaging in high-density electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG), integrated with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and functional MRI, which quantifies regional temporal and spatial details and cross-region interactions for different levels of information processing in relation to behavioral performance, and (b) bottom-up construction by investigating specific aspects of brain functions/dysfunctions in neural coding and computational modeling, which allows a detailed parameterization of the language input and the learning mechanisms in making the sonic and optical experiences uniquely human in service of communicative functions.

Educational Background & Specialties

Educational Background

  • Ph.D.: Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, 2002.
  • MA: Linguistics (psycholinguistics), University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, 1997.


  • auditory neuroscience
  • speech and voice perception
  • autism
  • learning and cognitive development
  • magnetocephalography (MEG), event-related potentials (ERP), functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
Courses Taught
  • The Physics and Biology of Spoken Language
  • Introduction to Acoustics
  • Seminar in Speech - NeuroImaging
  • Honors Seminar: Speech, Language and the Brain
  • The Talking Brain
  • Introduction to the Neuroscience of Human Communication
  • Diamond, E., & Zhang, Y. (2016). Cortical processing of phonetic and emotional information in speech: A cross-modal priming study. Neuropsychologia, 82, 110-122.
  • Cheng, B., & Zhang, Y. (2015). Syllable structure universals and native language interference in second language perception and production: Positional asymmetry and perceptual links to accentedness. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1801.
  • Koerner, T. K., & Zhang, Y. (2015). Effects of background noise on inter-trial phase coherence and auditory N1-P2 responses to speech stimuli. Hearing Research, 328, 113-119.
  • Yu, L., Fan, Y., Deng, Z., Huang, D., Wang, S., & Zhang, Y. (2015). Pitch processing in tonal-language-speaking children with autism: An event-related potential study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(11), 3656-3667.
  • Miller, S., & Zhang, Y. (2014). Neural coding of phonemic fricative contrast with and without hearing aid. Ear and Hearing, 35, e122-e133.
  • Stevens, J., & Zhang, Y. (2014). Brain mechanisms for processing co-speech gesture: A cross-language study of spatial demonstratives. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 30, 27-47.
  • Stevens, J., & Zhang, Y. (2013). Relative distance and gaze in the use of entity-referring spatial demonstratives: An event-related potential study. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 26, 31-45.
  • Zhang, Y., Zhang, L., Shu, H. Xi, J., Zhang, Y., & Li, P. (2012). Universality of categorical perception deficit in developmental dyslexia: An investigation of Mandarin Chinese tones. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53, 874–882.
  • Zhang, Y. & Cheng, B. (2011). Brain plasticity and phonetic training for English-as-a-second-language learners. In David J. Alonso (Ed.). English as a Second Language, pp. 1-50. Hauppauge, New York: Nova Science Publishers.
  • Zhang, Y., Koerner, T., Miller, S., Grice-Patil, Z., Svec, A., Akbari, D., Tusler, L., & Carney, E. (2011). Neural coding of formant-exaggerated speech in the infant brain. Developmental Science, 14, 566–581. Download
  • Xi, J., Zhang, L.J., Shu, H., Zhang, Y., & Li, P. (2010). Categorical perception of lexical tones in Chinese revealed by mismatch negativity. Neuroscience, 170, 223–231.
  • Zhang, Y., Kuhl, P. K., Imada, T., Iverson, P., Pruitt, J., Stevens, E., Kawakatsu, M., Tohkura, Y., & Nemoto, I. (2009). Neural signatures of phonetic learning in adulthood: A magnetoencephalography study. Neuroimage, 46, 226-240. Download
  • Zhang, Y., & Wang, Y. (2007). Neural plasticity in speech learning and acquisition. Bilingualism: Language and cognition, 10, 147-160. Download
  • Imada, T., Zhang, Y., Cheour, M., Taulu, S., Ahonen, A., & Kuhl, P. K. (2006). Infant speech perception activates Broca's area: a developmental magnetoencephalography study. Neuroreport, 17, 957-962. Download
  • Zhang, Y., Kuhl, P. K., Imada, T., Kotani, M., & Tohkura, Y. (2005). Effects of language experience: neural commitment to language-specific auditory patterns. Neuroimage, 26, 703-720. Download
  • Wang, X., Wang, S. Fan, Y., Huang, D., & Zhang, Y. (2017). Speech-specific categorical perception deficit in autism: An Event-Related Potential study of lexical tone processing in Mandarin-speaking children. Scientific Reports, 7, 43254.
  • Zhou, H., Liang, M., Guan, Q., Zhang, L., Shu, H., & Zhang, Y. (2017). Mandarin-speaking Children's Speech Recognition: Developmental Changes in the Influences of Semantic Context and F0 Contours. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1090.
  • Huang, D., Yu, L., Wang, X., Fan, Y., Wang, S., & Zhang, Y. (2018). Distinct patterns of discrimination and orienting for temporal processing of speech and nonspeech in Chinese children with autism: An event-related potential study. European Journal of Neuroscience, 47, 662-668.
  • Yu, L., Wang, S., Huang, D., Wu, X., & Zhang, Y. (2018). Role of inter-trial phase coherence in atypical auditory evoked potentials to speech and nonspeech stimuli in children with autism. Clinical Neurophysiology, 129, 1374-1382.