The perceptual processing of speech is a constant interplay of multiple competing albeit convergent processes: acoustic input vs. higher-level representations, universal mechanisms vs. language-specific, veridical traces of speech experience vs. construction and activation of abstract representations. The present summary concerns the third of these issues. The ability to generalise across experience and to deal with resulting abstractions is the hallmark of human cognition, visible even in early infancy. In speech processing, abstract representations play a necessary role in both production and perception. New sorts of evidence are now informing our understanding of the breadth of this role.