43. He has come off second best in the contest.
A. There he specialized English literature, graduated with honors.
B. There he specially studied English literature, graduated with honors.
C. There he took English literature and graduated with honors.
D. There he targeted English literature and graduated with honors.
The average 20-year-old knows between 27,000 and 52,000 different words. By age 60, that number averages between 35,000 and 56,000. Spoken out loud, most of these words last less than a second. So with every word, the brain has a quick decision to make: which of those thousands of options matches the signal? About 98% of the time, the brain chooses the correct word. But how?
Speech comprehension is different from reading comprehension, but it’s similar to sign language comprehension—though spoken word recognition has been studied more than sign language. The key to our ability to understand speech is the brain’s role as a parallel processor, meaning that it can do multiple different things at the same time.
Most theories assume that each word we know is represented by a separate processing unit that has just one job: to assess the likelihood of incoming speech matching that particular word. In the context of the brain, the processing unit that represents a word is likely a pattern of firing activity across a group of neurons in the brain’s cortex. When we hear the beginning of a word, several thousand such units may become active, because with just the beginning of a word, there are many possible matches. Then, as the word goes on, more and more units register that some vital piece of information is missing and lose activity. Possibly well before the end of the word, just one firing pattern remains active, corresponding to one word. This is called the “recognition point.”