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Speech repetition is the saying by one individual of the spoken vocalizations made by another individual. This requires the ability in the person making the copy to map the sensory input they hear from the other person's vocal pronunciation into a similar motor output with their own vocal tract.
Such speech input output imitation often occurs independently of speech comprehension such as in speech shadowing when a person automatically says words heard in earphones, and the pathological condition of echolalia in which people reflexively repeat overheard words. This links to speech repetition of words being separate in the brain to speech perception. Speech repetition occurs in the dorsal speech processing stream while speech perception occurs in the ventral speech processing stream. Repetitions are often incorporated unawares by this route into spontaneous novel sentences immediately or after delay following storage in phonological memory.
In humans, the ability to map heard input vocalizations into motor output is highly developed due to this copying ability playing a critical role in a child's rapid expansion of their spoken vocabulary. In older children and adults it still remains important as it enables the continued learning of novel words and names and additional languages. Such repetition is also necessary for the propagation of language from generation to generation. It has also been suggested that the phonetic units out of which speech is made have been selected upon by the process of vocabulary expansion and vocabulary transmissions due to children preferentially copying words in terms of more easily imitated elementary units.
Vocal imitation happens quickly: words can be repeated within 250-300 milliseconds both in normals (during speech shadowing) and during echolalia The imitation of speech syllables possibly happens even quicker: people begin imitating the second phone in the syllable [ao] earlier than they can identify it (out of the set [ao], [aæ] and [ai]). Indeed, "...simply executing a shift to [o] upon detection of a second vowel in [ao] takes very little longer than does interpreting and executing it as a shadowed response".Neurobiologically this suggests "...that the early phases of speech analysis yield information which is directly convertible to information required for speech production". Vocal repetition can be done immediately as in speech shadowing and echolalia. It can also be done after the pattern of pronunciation is stored in short-term memory or long-term memory. It automatically uses both auditory and where available visual information about how a word is produced.
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