Speech is special and language is structured
Dr. David Poeppel, New York University and Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics
Monday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m., 118 Psychology
I discuss recent (quite fun and straightforward) experiments that focus on general questions about the cognitive science and neural implementation of speech and language. I come to (currently) unpopular conclusions about both domains. Based on a first set of experiments, using fMRI and exploiting the temporal statistics of speech, I argue for the existence of a speech-specific processing stage that implicates a particular neuronal substrate (the superior temporal sulcus) that has the appropriate sensitivity and selectivity for speech. Based on a second set of experiments, using MEG, I outline neural mechanisms that can form the basis for more abstract, structural processing. The results demonstrate that, during listening to connected speech, cortical activity at different time scales is entrained concurrently to track the time course of linguistic structures at different hierarchical levels. The results demonstrate syntax-driven, internal construction of hierarchical linguistic structure via entrainment of hierarchical cortical dynamics. The conclusions — that speech is special and language syntactic-structure-driven — provide neurobiological provocations to the prevailing view that speech perception is ‘mere' hearing and that language comprehension is ‘mere' statistics.
Overath, T., McDermott, J. H., Zarate, J. M., & Poeppel, D. (2015). The cortical analysis of speech-specific temporal sturcture reeealed by responses to sount quilts. Nature Neuroscience. [pdf]
Ding, N., Melloni, L., Zhang, H., Tian, X., & Poeppel, D. (2016). Cortical tracking of hierarchical linguistic structures in connected speech. Nature Neuroscience. [pdf]