EDGE by photographer Mikko Lagerstedt.
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Researchers Watch As Our Brains Turn Sounds Into Words
Researchers are a bit closer to understanding one of the brain’s greatest accomplishments: making sense out of spoken language.
An area of the brain that interprets speech contains cells that respond to the dozen or so basic units of sound we use to form words, according to a team from the University of California, San Francisco.
Some of these cells respond specifically to plosives, like the initial “puh” sounds in “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” the team found. Other neurons respond to fricative consonants, like the “f” sound in the word “fish.”
"We were shocked to see this kind of selectivity," says Dr. Edward Chang, a brain surgeon at UCSF and one of the paper’s authors. The team was also surprised that the cells were responding to basic “phonemic features,” rather than to phonemes themselves, which are larger chunks of sounds. Phonemic features are “what we would consider the building blocks for speech and language,” Chang says.
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