Research ArticleNEUROSCIENCE

A speech envelope landmark for syllable encoding in human superior temporal gyrus

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Science Advances  20 Nov 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 11, eaay6279
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay6279


The most salient acoustic features in speech are the modulations in its intensity, captured by the amplitude envelope. Perceptually, the envelope is necessary for speech comprehension. Yet, the neural computations that represent the envelope and their linguistic implications are heavily debated. We used high-density intracranial recordings, while participants listened to speech, to determine how the envelope is represented in human speech cortical areas on the superior temporal gyrus (STG). We found that a well-defined zone in middle STG detects acoustic onset edges (local maxima in the envelope rate of change). Acoustic analyses demonstrated that timing of acoustic onset edges cues syllabic nucleus onsets, while their slope cues syllabic stress. Synthesized amplitude-modulated tone stimuli showed that steeper slopes elicited greater responses, confirming cortical encoding of amplitude change, not absolute amplitude. Overall, STG encoding of the timing and magnitude of acoustic onset edges underlies the perception of speech temporal structure.

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