Colloquium: MEG evidence for rapid abstraction from speech

December 2, 3:30-5pm, Cobb 201
William Idsardi, University of Maryland

The existence of abstract categories for the mental representation of speech sounds (such as distinctive features) remains controversial. Recent proposals for emergent and exemplar approaches to speech perception diminish or even eschew the role of abstract, categorical representations. In this talk we will review some recent magneto-encephalographic (MEG) evidence from automatic, early (100-300ms) cortical brain responses for the extraction of complex speech category information. We will show spectral integration effects for pitch and vowel formant normalization, cortical maps for vowels and consonants and contrasting perceptual distance measures for vowels and matched musical chords. These findings are consistent with the use of abstract category information, and statistical evidence suggests that the categorical information is crucial to adequately modeling the results.

(This work was done in collaboration with a number of people, most notably Mathias Scharinger and Phil Monahan.)