The apparently effortless identification of speech is one of the human auditory cortex' finest and least understood functions. This is partly due to difficulties to tease apart effects of acoustic and phonetic attributes of speech sounds. Here we present evidence from magnetic source imaging that the auditory cortex represents speech sounds (such as [g] and [t]) in a topographically orderly fashion that is based on phonetic features. Moreover, this mapping is dependent on intelligibility. Only when consonants are identifiable as members of a native speech sound category is topographical spreading out in the auditory cortex observed. Feature separation in the cortex also varies with a listener's ability to tell these easy-to-confuse consonants from one another. This is the first demonstration that speech-specific maps of features can be identified in human auditory cortex, and it will further help us to delineate speech processing pathways based on models from functional neuroimaging and non-human primates.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)