The neural basis of language has been studied for centuries, yet the networks critically involved in simply identifying or understanding a spoken word remain elusive. Several functional–anatomical models of critical neural substrates of receptive speech have been proposed, including (1) auditory-related regions in the left mid-posterior superior temporal lobe, (2) motor-related regions in the left frontal lobe (in normal and/or noisy conditions), (3) the left anterior superior temporal lobe, or (4) bilateral mid-posterior superior temporal areas. One difficulty in comparing these models is that they often focus on different aspects of the sound-to-meaning pathway and are supported by different types of stimuli and tasks. Two auditory tasks that are typically used in separate studies—syllable discrimination and word comprehension—often yield different conclusions. We assessed syllable discrimination (words and nonwords) and word comprehension (clear speech and with a noise masker) in 158 individuals with focal brain damage: left (n = 113) or right (n = 19) hemisphere stroke, left (n = 18) or right (n = 8) anterior temporal lobectomy, and 26 neurologically intact controls. Discrimination and comprehension tasks are doubly dissociable both behaviorally and neurologically. In support of a bilateral model, clear speech comprehension was near ceiling in 95% of left stroke cases and right temporal damage impaired syllable discrimination. Lesion-symptom mapping analyses for the syllable discrimination and noisy word comprehension tasks each implicated most of the left superior temporal gyrus. Comprehension but not discrimination tasks also implicated the left posterior middle temporal gyrus, whereas discrimination but not comprehension tasks also implicated more dorsal sensorimotor regions in posterior perisylvian cortex.

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