Several studies have shown enhancement of auditory evoked sustained responses for periodic over non-periodic sounds and for vowels over non-vowels. Here, we directly compared pitch and vowels using synthesized speech with a "damped" amplitude modulation. These stimuli were parametrically varied to yield four classes of matched stimuli: (1) periodic vowels (2) non-periodic vowels, (3) periodic non-vowels, and (4) non-periodic non-vowels. 12 listeners were studied with combined MEG and EEG. Sustained responses were reliably enhanced for vowels and periodicity. Dipole source analysis revealed that a vowel contrast (vowel-non-vowel) and the periodicity-pitch contrast (periodic-non-periodic) mapped to the same site in antero-lateral Heschl's gyrus. In contrast, the non-periodic, non-vowel condition mapped to a more medial and posterior site. The sustained enhancement for vowels was significantly more prominent when the vowel identity was varied, compared to a condition where only one vowel was repeated, indicating selective adaptation of the response. These results render it unlikely that there are spatially distinct fields for vowel and pitch processing in the auditory cortex. However, the common processing of vowels and pitch raises the possibility that there is an early speech-specific field in Heschl's gyrus.
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