Glossary

acoustic phonetics
The study of speech ‘in the air’.
Afferent
Said of a connection that reaches inward or towards a central area.
affords
The pivotal verb of ecological psychology, which states the way an aspect of the environment provides the basis for a behavior. The prototypical example is a doorknob, which you can tell that you should grab it with your hand just by looking at it. Thus a doorknob ‘affords’ being grasped by the hand.
allophones
Phonetic units that are in complementary distribution, such as oral and nasalized vowels in English.
ambiguous
Said of a linguistic form that has more than one interpretation.
anhedonia
The loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, see for example Anhedonia in Wikipida.
aphasia
The neurological disruption of language. To be diagnosed with aphasia, the other cognitive abilities of a patient should be intact.
aprosodias
Disorders of prosody, thought to be localized to the right hemisphere.
aspiration
The [h]-like puff of air that follows the release of a voiceless stop in English and some other languages.
association areas
Areas of the neocortex where information from different sensory modalities is associated or combined.
articulation
The production of speech.
articulatory phonetics
The study of the production of speech.
audition
The term in the medical sciences for hearing.
auditory phonetics
The study of the perception of speech.
axon
The long fiber that extends from the soma at the axon hillock through which action potentials are transmitted to succeeding neurons.
axon hillock
A protuberance at the base of a pyramidal neuron from which the axon sprouts.
basilar membrane
The membrane in the cochlea that lies between the vestibular canal and the tympanic canal and so moves in sympathy with vibrations transmitted from the former to the latter. It constitutes the ‘floor’ of the organ of Corti, in which hair cells transduce vibratory motion into neural signals. Its length is organized by tonotopy from high frequencies at its base to low frequencies at its apex.
cell membrane
The double layer of fats (phosopholipids) that separate animal cells from their environment.
central auditory pathway
The pathway that connects the cochlea to primary auditory cortex, which ‘ascends’ from the ear through various subcortical organs.
cerebellum
The roughly spherical structure underneath and at the rear of the cerebrum, usually said to be responsible for fine motor control. Its contribution to language, other than fine control of the muscles of the vocal tract, is unknown.
cerebrum
The large roughly almond-shaped structure that fills most of the skull and that most people take to the ‘brain’.
circumlocution
The tendency of a person with Wernicke’s aphasia to paraphrase or ‘talk around’ a word that he or she cannot recall.
cochlea
The spiral or snail-shaped bony cavity in the inner ear in which acoustic vibrations are transduced into neural signals.
cognition
to do
complementary distribution
The description of allophones as appearing in mutually exclusive contexts, such as oral and nasalized vowels in English.
consonant
A category of speech sounds in which the mouth is partially or completely open or obstructed.
constructivism
A branch of philosophy that holds that the world is independent of human minds, but knowledge of the world is always a human and social construction.
contrastive distribution
The description of phonemes as appearing in the same contexts, such as oral and nasal vowels in French.
convolutions
The folds of the neocortex.
cortical deafness
Inability to ‘hear’ sound despite intact peripheral and central auditory pathways, presumably due to bilateral damage to auditory cortex.
craniotomy
A surgical operation in which part of the skull is removed in order to access the brain.
cycle
The measurement of a wave from peak to peak.
diffusion gradient
A difference in chemical concentration between two areas that promotes diffusion of the chemical from the area of high concentration to the area of low concentration.
distal
Far, said of synapses that are far from the soma and so presumably have less influence that ones that are proximal.
ecological psychology
A branch of psychology which holds that a particular behavior can only be understood in the context of an environment. Its founder, James Gibson, is famous for saying “Ask not what’s inside your head, but what your head’s inside of.”
electrical gradient
A difference in ionic concentration between two areas that promotes diffusion of the ion from the area of high concentration to the area of low concentration.
empty speech
A synonym of semantic paraphasia.
evolutionary psychology
A branch of psychology which studies behavior as the result of evolutionary pressure.
hertz (Hz)
The measure of frequency as cycles per second.
formants
The bands of energy in a spectrogram that correspond to cavity resonances of the vocal system.
frequency
The number of repetitions of a phenomenon per some unit of time.
fundamental frequency
The lowest or basic frequency of a sound-emitting object, indicated by \(F_0\).
frontal lobe
The division of the cerebrum along the front, behind the forehead. It is responsible for motor planning and ‘executive functions’.
graphemes
The units of written language.
graphemic transcription
A transcription into the standard spelling (or orthography) of a language.
grey matter
The mass of cell bodies that lies along the surface of the cerebrum and has a grey or pinkish-grey color. Also known as (neo)cortex.
gyrus
The peak or upward extent of convolutions.
hair cells
The cells in the organ of Corti whose cilia or ‘hairs’ at the top open ion channels when pressed upon by the tectorial membrane, which can trigger action potentials which are fed into the auditory nerve. They are divided into inner hair cell and outer hair cells.
harmonics
The higher frequencies that are multiples of the fundamental frequency.
hemispheres
The two side-by-side, mirror-image divisions of the cerebrum.
homunculus
A representation of the layout of the body from foot to tongue arrayed along the primary motor and somatosensory cortices.
inner hair cell
The hair cells
ion channels
The protein tubes in the cell membrane that allow particular ions to cross between the interior and exterior of a cell.
IPA
The acronym of the International Phonetic Alphabet, a standardized representation of speech in which each grapheme corresponds to a single phone, and each phone corresponds to a single grapheme.
jargon
A description of the speech of people with Wernicke’s aphasia characterized by neologism some extreme that it becomes unintelligible.
laryngeal system
The middle section of the speech production apparatus, which encompasses the larynx which houses the vocal cords.
lateral
The view of the hemispheres from the outside.
logorrhea
‘Word diarrhea’ as you may have guessed; the tendency of a person with Wernicke’s aphasia to keep talking far beyond what is relevant or appropriate. A synonym of press of speech.
manner of articulation
One of the three characteristics of consonants, which delineates how the constriction takes place.
medial
The view of the hemispheres from the inside or center line of the cerebrum.
membrane potential
The electrical potential that builds up inside a neuron due to the electrical gradient between its interior and exterior.
minicolumns
The organization of neocortex into functional units in which a group of nearby neurons exite one another yet inhibit their surrounding neighbors.
morphemes
The smallest units of language that have meaning, such as ‘cat’, ‘anti-‘, or ‘-ish’. Usually understood as the parts of words, though undecomposable words count, too.
morphology
The study of morphemes.
nasalized
Said of segments, usually vowels, that are normally articulated orally but that can have nasal airflow in certain contexts.
neocortex
The thin layer of cell bodies on the surface of the cerebrum. “Cortex” is the Latin word for the bark of a tree. It is “neo” or new because it expanded tremendously during the evolution of mammals. I usually just call it “cortex”, ignoring the potential for confusion with the cortex of the cerebellum.
neologism
A “new word” in Latin, the term used to describe the invention of novel words in the speech of people with aphasia, especially Wernicke’s aphasia.
neolithic
The new Stone Age, dating approximately from the invention of agriculture to the invention of metal tools.
normalization
The process of translating, rotating, scaling, and maybe warping a brain to roughly match a standard template image.
nucleus
In the context of the central auditory pathway, it is a group of anatomically differentiated neurons in some subcortical structure. It is used in contrast to neocortex, which has a different and more uniform structure.
organ of Corti
The structure running the length of the basilar membrane which houses the hair cells which transduce vibratory motion to neural signals.
occipital lobe
The division of the cerebrum at the back. It is responsible for the initial processing of vision.
oscillate
To repeat a cycle.
outer hair cells
The hair cells
paleolithic
The Old Stone Age, dating approximately from the invention of stone tools to the invention of agriculture.
pascal
The unit of pressure in the International System of Units, see Pascal (unit) at Wikipedia.
paraphasia
A linguistic error associated with a neurological disorder.
paraphrased
Restated in a different way, usually to bring out a subtle meaning.
parietal lobe
The division of the cerebrum along the top between all the other lobes. It is responsible for touch and sensory association in general.
part of speech
The category of a word. See The Eight Parts of Speech for definitions and examples.
phonation
The production of speech.
phonemes
The units of the ‘mental’ representation of speech. They do not depend on a specific phonetic context but rather are learned or generalized from many contexts.
phonemic paraphasia
A sort of paraphasia characterized by the incorrect selection of one or more phonemes.
phonemic transcription
A transcription of phonemes into a standardized alphabet, usually the IPA.
phones
The units of the physical manifestation of speech in a particular phonetic context, either heard or articulated.
phonetic transcription
A transcription of phones into a standardized alphabet, usually the IPA.
place of articulation
One of the three characteristics of consonants, which delineates where in the mouth the constriction takes place.
pragmatics
The field of linguistics that deals with the meaning of a form in a specific context.
press of speech
A synonym of logorrhea.
prosodic
A synonym of supra-segmental.
proximal
Near, said of synapses that are close to the soma and so presumably have more influence that ones that are distal.
transcription
The act of transforming spoken language into a written form.
segment
Refers to the units of phonetics and phonology that are approximated by an alphabet.
segmental
Refers to the units of phonetics and phonology that are approximated by a segment.
semantic paraphasia
As a symptom of aphasia, the usage of words incorrectly or the usage of vague or general words like thing for more specific words. Synonym of empty speech.
semantics
The field of linguistics that deals with meaning.
sensorimotor system
to do
soma
The body of a neuron.
somatosensory
In neuroscience, it refers to the parts of the cortex responsible for processing touch or tactile information.
spectrum
The entire range over which some measure can vary.
speech perception
The decoding of an acoustic signal as speech.
speech comprehension
The decoding of speech as meaningful communication.
spike train
A sequence of spikes.
stereocilia
The ‘hairs’ on the top of hair cells.
sulcus
The trough or downward extent of convolutions.
superposition
The addition of multiple waves into a single composite wave.
supralaryngeal system
The top section of the speech production apparatus, which encompasses the mouth and nasal cavity.
supra-segmental
Refers to the aspects of phonetics and phonology that are not approximated by an alphabet but rather by punctuation. It encompasses how intonation, loudness and duration are used in a language.
synapses
The gaps where an axon and a dendrite come together, at which an electrical signal from the axon is transformed into a chemical one which crosses the gap and is transformed back into an electrical signal in the dendrite.
syntax
The field of linguistics that deals with word order.
temporal lobe
The oval division of the cerebrum that runs along the bottom center.
thalamus
to do
tonotopy
The state of being organized by tone or frequency, from low to high or vice versa.
unvoiced
Said of phonetic material during which the vocal cords do not vibrate. Synonym of voiceless.
vestibular canal
The fluid-filled canal in the cochlea that receives an incoming acoustic vibration. Also called the scala vestibule.
vocal cords
The twin membranes in the larynx that vibrate when air from the lungs passes through them, creating the human voice.
vocal tract
The mechanism for producing phonation, embracing the laryngeal system and the ‘supralaryngeal system’.
voiced
Said of phonetic material during which the vocal cords vibrate.
voiceless
Said of phonetic material during which the vocal cords do not vibrate. Synonym of unvoiced.
vowel
A category of speech sounds in which the mouth is maximally open or unobstructed.
Wernicke’s aphasia
One of the two main types of aphasia, attendant on damage to Wernicke’s region. Also called receptive or sensory aphasia.
Wernicke’s region
A poorly delimited area of the left lateral posterior temporal lobe which produces the symptoms of Wernicke’s aphasia when damaged.

Last edited: Aug 26, 2019