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Keywords:

  • speech processing;
  • magnetoencephalography;
  • coherence;
  • superior temporal sulcus;
  • superior temporal gyrus;
  • prosody;
  • sentence;
  • temporal integration window

Abstract

We studied online coupling between a reader's voice and a listener's cortical activity using a novel, ecologically valid continuous listening paradigm. Whole-scalp magnetoencephalographic (MEG) signals were recorded from 10 right-handed, native French-speaking listeners in four conditions: a female (Exp1f) and a male (Exp1m) reading the same text in French; a male reading a text in Finnish (Exp 2), a language incomprehensible for the subjects, and a male humming Exp1 text (Exp 3). The fundamental frequency (f0) of the reader's voice was recorded with an accelerometer attached to the throat, and coherence was computed between f0 time-course and listener's MEG. Similar levels of right-hemisphere-predominant coherence were found at ˜0.5 Hz in Exps 1–3. Dynamic imaging of coherent sources revealed that the most coherent brain regions were located in the right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) and posterior superior temporal gyrus (pSTG) in Exps 1–2 and in the right supratemporal auditory cortex in Exp 3. Comparison between speech rhythm and phrasing suggested a connection of the observed coherence to pauses at the sentence level both in the spoken and hummed text. These results demonstrate significant coupling at ∼0.5 Hz between reader's voice and listener's cortical signals during listening to natural continuous voice. The observed coupling suggests that voice envelope fluctuations, due to prosodic rhythmicity at the phrasal and sentence levels, are reflected in the listener's cortex as rhythmicity of about 2-s cycles. The predominance of the coherence in the right pSTS and pSTG suggests hemispherical asymmetry in processing of speech sounds at subsentence time scales. Hum Brain Mapp, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.