The theta-syllable: a unit of speech information defined by cortical function

Front Psychol. 2013 Mar 20:4:138. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00138. eCollection 2013.


A RECENT COMMENTARY (OSCILLATORS AND SYLLABLES: a cautionary note. Cummins, 2012) questions the validity of a class of speech perception models inspired by the possible role of neuronal oscillations in decoding speech (e.g., Ghitza, 2011; Giraud and Poeppel, 2012). In arguing against the approach, Cummins raises a cautionary flag "from a phonetician's point of view." Here we respond to his arguments from an auditory processing viewpoint, referring to a phenomenological model of Ghitza (2011) taken as a representative of the criticized approach. We shall conclude by proposing the theta-syllable as an information unit defined by cortical function-an alternative to the conventional, ambiguously defined syllable. In the large context, the resulting discussion debate should be viewed as a subtext of acoustic and auditory phonetics vs. articulatory and motor theories of speech reception.

Keywords: cascaded neuronal oscillations; everyday speech; hierarchical window structure; syllabic parsing; synchronization.