Neuromagnetic evidence for a featural distinction of English consonants: sensor- and source-space data

Mathias Scharinger, Jennifer Merickel, Joshua Riley, William J Idsardi
Brain and Language 2011, 116 (2): 71-82
Speech sounds can be classified on the basis of their underlying articulators or on the basis of the acoustic characteristics resulting from particular articulatory positions. Research in speech perception suggests that distinctive features are based on both articulatory and acoustic information. In recent years, neuroelectric and neuromagnetic investigations provided evidence for the brain's early sensitivity to distinctive features and their acoustic consequences, particularly for place of articulation distinctions. Here, we compare English consonants in a Mismatch Field design across two broad and distinct places of articulation - labial and coronal - and provide further evidence that early evoked auditory responses are sensitive to these features. We further add to the findings of asymmetric consonant processing, although we do not find support for coronal underspecification. Labial glides (Experiment 1) and fricatives (Experiment 2) elicited larger Mismatch responses than their coronal counterparts. Interestingly, their M100 dipoles differed along the anterior/posterior dimension in the auditory cortex that has previously been found to spatially reflect place of articulation differences. Our results are discussed with respect to acoustic and articulatory bases of featural speech sound classifications and with respect to a model that maps distinctive phonetic features onto long-term representations of speech sounds.

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