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You are here: McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind > Publications > The somatotopy of speech: Phonation and articulation in the human motor cortex

Steven Brown, Angela R Laird, Peter Q Pfordresher, Sarah M Thelen, Peter Turkeltaub, and Mario Liotti (2009)

The somatotopy of speech: Phonation and articulation in the human motor cortex

Brain and Cognition, 70(1):31-41.

A sizable literature on the neuroimaging of speech production has reliably shown activations in the orofacial region of the primary motor cortex. These activations have invariably been interpreted as reflecting "mouth" functioning and thus articulation. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare an overt speech task with tongue movement, lip movement, and vowel phonation. The results showed that the strongest motor activation for speech was the somatotopic larynx area of the motor cortex, thus reflecting the significant contribution of phonation to speech production. In order to analyze further the phonatory component of speech, we performed a voxel-based meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of syllable-singing (11 studies) and compared the results with a previously-published meta-analysis of oral reading (11 studies), showing again a strong overlap in the larynx motor area. Overall, these findings highlight the under-recognized presence of phonation in imaging studies of speech production, and support the role of the larynx motor cortex in mediating the "melodicity" of speech.