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Keywords:

  • Phonetics;
  • Speech perception;
  • Electrophysiology;
  • Mismatch negativity

Abstract

Mapping from acoustic signals to lexical representations is a complex process mediated by a number of different levels of representation. This paper reviews properties of the phonetic and phonological levels, and hypotheses about how category structure is represented at each of these levels, and evaluates these hypotheses in light of relevant electrophysiological studies of phonetics and phonology. The paper examines evidence for two alternative views of how infant phonetic representations develop into adult representations, a structure-changing view and a structure-adding view, and suggests that each may be better suited to different kinds of phonetic categories. Electrophysiological results are beginning to provide information about phonological representations, but less is known about how the more abstract representations at this level could be coded in the brain.