From sound to meaning: hearing, speech and language
From sound to meaning: hearing, speech and language

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

From sound to meaning: hearing, speech and language

3.6 Summary of Section 3

Sound waves received by the ear are turned into neural activity by a complex mechanism involving the eardrum, the bones in the middle ear, and the hair cells within the cochlea. The auditory nerve carries the signal from the ears to the brainstem, from where it passes via the thalamus to the auditory areas of the cerebral cortex. In the cortex, speech sounds are extracted from the incoming signal. There are neural circuits in the auditory cortex that are specialised for speech and language as opposed to other types of sound.

Production and perception of speech takes place predominantly in one hemisphere of the brain, usually the left. Several areas within the left hemisphere are involved. Broca's area, in the frontal lobe, seems to be crucial for syntactic operations in both production and perception of speech. Wernicke's area, in the temporal lobe, seems to be crucial for accessing the concrete meanings of words. The evidence for the distinction in function between posterior and anterior language areas comes from the study of aphasia, that is, problems with language resulting from brain injury, as well as brain scanning.

Evidence from electrophysiological recording suggests that decoding a sentence involves several stages. First, there is an initial syntactic analysis of the structure of the sentence. Then the meanings of the individual words are accessed. Finally, the meanings of the individual words and the structure of the sentence are integrated to produce a coherent overall meaning. This all happens within one second of the final word being uttered.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371