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Speech motor learning in profoundly deaf adults


Speech production, like other sensorimotor behaviors, relies on multiple sensory inputs—audition, proprioceptive inputs from muscle spindles and cutaneous inputs from mechanoreceptors in the skin and soft tissues of the vocal tract. However, the capacity for intelligible speech by deaf speakers suggests that somatosensory input alone may contribute to speech motor control and perhaps even to speech learning. We assessed speech motor learning in cochlear implant recipients who were tested with their implants turned off. A robotic device was used to alter somatosensory feedback by displacing the jaw during speech. We found that implant subjects progressively adapted to the mechanical perturbation with training. Moreover, the corrections that we observed were for movement deviations that were exceedingly small, on the order of millimeters, indicating that speakers have precise somatosensory expectations. Speech motor learning is substantially dependent on somatosensory input.

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Figure 1: Experimental set-up and audiogram.
Figure 2: Sagittal plane jaw-movement paths.
Figure 3: Adaptation patterns in implant and control subjects.
Figure 4: There were no systematic acoustical effects associated with force field learning.
Figure 5: Kinematic and acoustical variability for implant (with implant on and off) and control subjects.


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The authors thank L. Polka, D. Purcell, D. Shiller and M. Tiede for advice and assistance with auditory testing. This research was supported by US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders grant DC-04669, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (Canada) and Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Nature et les Technologies (Québec).

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S.M.N. and D.J.O. designed the experiments and wrote the manuscript. S.M.N. conducted the experiments and analyzed the data.

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Correspondence to David J Ostry.

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Nasir, S., Ostry, D. Speech motor learning in profoundly deaf adults. Nat Neurosci 11, 1217–1222 (2008).

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