Electrophysiological evidence of phonemotopic representations of vowels in the primary and secondary auditory cortex

Anna Dora Manca, Francesco Di Russo, Francesco Sigona, Mirko Grimaldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How the brain encodes the speech acoustic signal into phonological representations is a fundamental question for the neurobiology of language. Determining whether this process is characterized by tonotopic maps in primary or secondary auditory areas, with bilateral or leftward activity, remains a long-standing challenge. Magnetoencephalographic studies failed to show hierarchical and asymmetric hints for speech processing. We employed high-density electroencephalography to map the Salento Italian vowel system onto cortical sources using the N1 auditory evoked component. We found evidence that the N1 is characterized by hierarchical and asymmetrical indexes in primary and secondary auditory areas structuring vowel representations. Importantly, the N1 was characterized by early and late phases. The early N1 peaked at 125–135 msec and was localized in the primary auditory cortex; the late N1 peaked at 145–155 msec and was localized in the left superior temporal gyrus. We showed that early in the primary auditory cortex, the cortical spatial arrangements—along the lateral-medial and anterior-posterior gradients—are broadly warped by phonemotopic patterns according to the distinctive feature principle. These phonemotopic patterns are carefully refined in the superior temporal gyrus along the inferior-superior and anterior-posterior gradients. The dynamical and hierarchical interface between primary and secondary auditory areas and the interaction effects between Height and Place features generate the categorical representation of the Salento Italian vowels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-398
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Distinctive features
  • Electroencephalography
  • N1
  • Primary auditory cortex
  • Superior temporal gyrus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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