Scale-free amplitude modulation of neuronal oscillations tracks comprehension of accelerated speech

Ana Filipa Teixeira Borges, Anne Lise Giraud, Huibert D. Mansvelder, Klaus Linkenkaer-Hansen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Speech comprehension is preserved up to a threefold acceleration, but deteriorates rapidly at higher speeds. Current models posit that perceptual resilience to accelerated speech is limited by the brain’s ability to parse speech into syllabic units using δ/θ oscillations. Here, we investigated whether the involvement of neuronal oscillations in processing accelerated speech also relates to their scale-free amplitude modulation as indexed by the strength of long-range temporal correlations (LRTC). We recorded MEG while 24 human subjects (12 females) listened to radio news uttered at different comprehensible rates, at a mostly unintelligible rate and at this same speed interleaved with silence gaps. δ, θ, and low-γ oscillations followed the nonlinear variation of comprehension, with LRTC rising only at the highest speed. In contrast, increasing the rate was associated with a monotonic increase in LRTC in high-γ activity. When intelligibility was restored with the insertion of silence gaps, LRTC in the δ, θ, and low-γ oscillations resumed the low levels observed for intelligible speech. Remarkably, the lower the individual subject scaling exponents of δ/θ oscillations, the greater the comprehension of the fastest speech rate. Moreover, the strength of LRTC of the speech envelope decreased at the maximal rate, suggesting an inverse relationship with the LRTC of brain dynamics when comprehension halts. Our findings show that scale-free amplitude modulation of cortical oscillations and speech signals are tightly coupled to speech uptake capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)710-722
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2018


  • Accelerated speech
  • Language comprehension
  • Long-range temporal correlations
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG)
  • Principle of complexity management (PCM)
  • Scale-free dynamics


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