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Neuroimage. 2006 Oct 15;33(1):316-25. Epub 2006 Aug 17.

Neural responses to non-native phonemes varying in producibility: evidence for the sensorimotor nature of speech perception.

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Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, 660 Young Drive South, University of California, Los Angeles, 90095, USA.


Neural responses to unfamiliar non-native phonemes varying in the extent to which they can be articulated were studied with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Both superior temporal (auditory) and precentral (motor) areas were activated by passive speech perception, and both distinguished non-native from native phonemes, with greater signal change in response to non-native phonemes. Furthermore, speech-responsive motor regions and superior temporal sites were functionally connected. However, only in auditory areas did activity covary with the producibility of non-native phonemes. These data suggest that auditory areas are crucial for the transformation from acoustic signal to phonetic code, but the motor system also plays an active role, which may involve the internal generation of candidate phonemic categorizations. These 'motor' categorizations would then be compared to the acoustic input in auditory areas. The data suggest that speech perception is neither purely sensory nor motor, but rather a sensorimotor process.

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