The dorsal bank of the primate superior temporal sulcus (STS) is a polysensory area with rich connections to unimodal sensory association cortices. These include auditory projections that process complex acoustic information, including conspecific vocalizations. We investigated whether an extensive left posterior temporal (Wernicke's area) lesion, which included destruction of early auditory cortex, may contribute to impaired spoken narrative comprehension as a consequence of reduced function in the anterior STS, a region not included within the boundary of infarction. Listening to narratives in normal subjects activated the posterior-anterior extent of the left STS, as far forward as the temporal pole. The presence of a Wernicke's area lesion was associated with both impaired sentence comprehension and a reduced physiological response to heard narratives in the intact anterior left STS when compared to aphasic patients without temporal lobe damage and normal controls. Thus, in addition to the loss of language function in left posterior temporal cortex as the direct result of infarction, posterior ablation that includes primary and early association auditory cortex impairs language function in the intact anterior left temporal lobe. The implication is that clinical studies of language on stroke patients have underestimated the role of left anterior temporal cortex in comprehension of narrative speech. © The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.