Scientists Map What Your Brain Looks Like on English

Health & Family

Ever wonder how your brain distinguishes all the sounds in a language? How does it know “b” is different from “z”?

Researchers may now be closer to understanding how the brain processes sounds, or at least those made in English. Taking advantage of a group of hospitalized epilepsy patients who had electrodes hooked directly to their brains to monitor for seizures, Dr. Edward Chang and his colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, and University of California, Berkeley, were able to listen in on the brain as it listened to 500 English sentences spoken by 400 different native English speakers.

A specific part of the brain, the superior temporal gyrus, is responsible for translating auditory signals into something the brain “hears.” Until recently, however, neuroscientists assumed that the smallest chunk of sound that the brain distinguished were phonemes, such as the “b” or “z” sounds. But Chang and his…

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