Speech perception at the interface of neurobiology and linguistics

David Poeppel, William J. Idsardi, Virginie Van Wassenhove

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

Speech perception consists of a set of computations that take continuously varying acoustic waveforms as input and generate discrete representations that make contact with the lexical representations stored in long-term memory as output. Because the perceptual objects that are recognized by the speech perception enter into subsequent linguistic computation, the format that is used for lexical representation and processing fundamentally constrains the speech perceptual processes. Consequently, theories of speech perception must, at some level, be tightly linked to theories of lexical representation. Minimally, speech perception must yield representations that smoothly and rapidly interface with stored lexical items. Adopting the perspective of Marr, we argue and provide neurobiological and psychophysical evidence for the following research programme. First, at the implementational level, speech perception is a multi-time resolution process, with perceptual analyses occurring concurrently on at least two time scales (approx. 20-80ms, approx. 150-300ms), commensurate with (sub)segmental and syllabic analyses, respectively. Second, at the algorithmic level, we suggest that perception proceeds on the basis of internal forward models, or uses an 'analysis-by-synthesis' approach. Third, at the computational level (in the sense of Marr), the theory of lexical representation that we adopt is principally informed by phonological research and assumes that words are represented in the mental lexicon in terms of sequences of discrete segments composed of distinctive features. One important goal of the research programme is to develop linking hypotheses between putative neurobiological primitives (e.g. temporal primitives) and those primitives derived from linguistic inquiry, to arrive ultimately at a biologically sensible and theoretically satisfying model of representation and computation in speech.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1071-1086
Number of pages16
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume363
Issue number1493
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 12 2008

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Keywords

  • Analysis-by-synthesis
  • Distinctive features
  • Forward model
  • Multi-time resolution
  • Predictive coding
  • Temporal coding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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