The existence of a neural representation for whole words (i.e., a lexicon) is a common feature of many models of speech processing. Prior studies have provided evidence for a visual lexicon containing representations of whole written words in an area of the ventral visual stream known as the visual word form area. Similar experimental support for an auditory lexicon containing representations of spoken words has yet to be shown. Using functional magnetic resonance imageing rapid adaptation techniques, we provide evidence for an auditory lexicon in the auditory word form area in the human left anterior superior temporal gyrus that contains representations highly selective for individual spoken words. Furthermore, we show that familiarization with novel auditory words sharpens the selectivity of their representations in the auditory word form area. These findings reveal strong parallels in how the brain represents written and spoken words, showing convergent processing strategies across modalities in the visual and auditory ventral streams.

This content is only available as a PDF.

Author notes

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Handling Editor: Sophie Scott

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For a full description of the license, please visit

Supplementary data