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Evolution of the speech‐ready brain: The voice/jaw connection in the human motor cortex

Citation

Brown, Steven; Yuan, Ye; Belyk, Michel (2020), Evolution of the speech‐ready brain: The voice/jaw connection in the human motor cortex, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.np5hqbzpm

Abstract

A prominent model of the origins of speech, known as the “frame/content” theory, posits that oscillatory lowering and raising of the jaw provided an evolutionary scaffold for the development of syllable structure in speech. Because such oscillations are non‐vocal in most non‐human primates, the evolution of speech required the addition of vocalization onto this scaffold in order to turn such jaw oscillations into vocalized syllables. In the present functional MRI study, we demonstrate overlapping somatotopic representations between the larynx and the jaw muscles in the human primary motor cortex. This proximity between the larynx and jaw in the brain might support the coupling between vocalization and jaw oscillations to generate syllable structure. This model suggests that humans inherited voluntary control of jaw oscillations from ancestral species, but added voluntary control of vocalization onto this via the evolution of a new brain area that came to be situated near the jaw region in the human motor cortex.

Funding

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Award: 371336