Abstract

Spoken sentence comprehension relies on rapid and effortless temporal integration of speech units displayed at different rates. Temporal integration refers to how chunks of information perceived at different time scales are linked together by the listener in mapping speech sounds onto meaning. The neural implementation of this integration remains unclear. This study explores the role of short and long windows of integration in accessing meaning from long samples of speech. In a cross-linguistic study, we explore the time course of oscillatory brain activity between 1 and 100 Hz, recorded using EEG, during the processing of native and foreign languages. We compare oscillatory responses in a group of Italian and Spanish native speakers while they attentively listen to Italian, Japanese, and Spanish utterances, played either forward or backward. The results show that both groups of participants display a significant increase in gamma band power (55–75 Hz) only when they listen to their native language played forward. The increase in gamma power starts around 1000 msec after the onset of the utterance and decreases by its end, resembling the time course of access to meaning during speech perception. In contrast, changes in low-frequency power show similar patterns for both native and foreign languages. We propose that gamma band power reflects a temporal binding phenomenon concerning the coordination of neural assemblies involved in accessing meaning of long samples of speech.

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