Comprehending speech in our native language is an impressionistically effortless and routine task. We often give little consideration to its complexity. Only in particularly challenging situations (e.g., in noisy environments, when hearing significantly accented speech) do some of these intricacies become apparent. Higher-order knowledge constrains sensory perception and has been demonstrated to play a crucial role in other domains of human language processing. Moreover, incorporating measures of brain activity during online speech comprehension has just begun to highlight the extent to which top-down information flow and predictive processes are integral to sensory perception. This review argues that our phonological system, at a relatively abstract level, is one such source of higher-order knowledge. In particular, I discuss the extent to which phonological distinctive features play a role in perception and predictive processing during speech comprehension with reference to behavioral and neurophysiological data. This line of research represents a tractable linking of linguistic theory with models of perception and speech comprehension in the brain.


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