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Front Psychol. 2012 Jul 16;3:238. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00238. eCollection 2012.

On the role of theta-driven syllabic parsing in decoding speech: intelligibility of speech with a manipulated modulation spectrum.

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Hearing Research Center, Boston University Boston, MA, USA.


Recent hypotheses on the potential role of neuronal oscillations in speech perception propose that speech is processed on multi-scale temporal analysis windows formed by a cascade of neuronal oscillators locked to the input pseudo-rhythm. In particular, Ghitza (2011) proposed that the oscillators are in the theta, beta, and gamma frequency bands with the theta oscillator the master, tracking the input syllabic rhythm and setting a time-varying, hierarchical window structure synchronized with the input. In the study described here the hypothesized role of theta was examined by measuring the intelligibility of speech with a manipulated modulation spectrum. Each critical-band signal was manipulated by controlling the degree of temporal envelope flatness. Intelligibility of speech with critical-band envelopes that are flat is poor; inserting extra information, restricted to the input syllabic rhythm, markedly improves intelligibility. It is concluded that flattening the critical-band envelopes prevents the theta oscillator from tracking the input rhythm, hence the disruption of the hierarchical window structure that controls the decoding process. Reinstating the input-rhythm information revives the tracking capability, hence restoring the synchronization between the window structure and the input, resulting in the extraction of additional information from the flat modulation spectrum.


cascaded neuronal oscillations; hierarchical window structure; intelligibility; modulation spectrum; speech perception; syllabic parsing; synchronization; theta band

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