Phones and phonemes are conceptual blends, not cognitive letters


Despite our strong intuitions that language is represented in memory using some kind of alphabet, phones and phonemes appear to play almost no psychological role in human speech perception, production or memory. Instead, evidence shows that people store linguistic material with a rich, detailed auditory and sensory-motor code that tends, in its details, to be unique for each speaker. The obvious phonological discreteness of languages reflects conventional categories of pronunciation but not discrete symbols. In learning to read, we all master the Speech-Letter Blend, so that letters can be effortlessly interpreted as speech when reading. This mapping between letters and speech, requiring many years of training, is apparently achieved in the Visual Word Form Area of cortex. The notion of a phoneme is actually a conceptual blend of letters and speech.

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