Navigation Links
Sign language study shows multiple brain regions wired for language
Date:4/29/2010

A new study from the University of Rochester finds that there is no single advanced area of the human brain that gives it language capabilities above and beyond those of any other animal species.

Instead, humans rely on several regions of the brain, each designed to accomplish different primitive tasks, in order to make sense of a sentence. Depending on the type of grammar used in forming a given sentence, the brain will activate a certain set of regions to process it, like a carpenter digging through a toolbox to pick a group of tools to accomplish the various basic components that comprise a complex task.

"We're using and adapting the machinery we already have in our brains," said study coauthor Aaron Newman. "Obviously we're doing something different [from other animals], because we're able to learn language unlike any other species. But it's not because some little black box evolved specially in our brain that does only language, and nothing else."

The team of brain and cognitive scientists comprised of Newman (now at Dalhousie University after beginning the work as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester), Elissa Newport (University of Rochester), Ted Supalla (University of Rochester), Daphne Bavelier (University of Rochester), and Peter Hauser (Rochester Institute of Technology) - published their findings in the latest edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

To determine whether different brain regions were used to decipher sentences with different types of grammar, the scientists turned to American Sign Language for a rare quality it has.

Some languages (English, for example) rely on the order of words in a sentence to convey the relationships between the sentence elements. When an English speaker hears the sentence "Sally greets Bob," it's clear from the word order that Sally is the subject doing the greeting and Bob is the object being greeted, not vice versa.

Other languages (Spanish, for example) rely on inflections, such as suffixes tacked on to the ends of words, to convey subject-object relationships, and the word order can be interchangeable.

American Sign Language has the helpful characteristic that subject-object relationships can be expressed in either of the two ways using word order or inflection. Either a signer can sign the word "Sally" followed by the words "greets" and "Bob" (a construction in which word order dictates meaning), or the signer can use physical inflections such as moving hands through space or signing on one side of the body to convey the relationship between elements. For the study, the team formed 24 sentences and expressed each of those sentences using both methods.

Videos of the sentences being signed were then played for the subjects of the experiment, native signers who were lying on their backs in MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines with coils around their heads to monitor which areas of the brain were activated when processing the different types of sentences.

The study found that there are, in fact, distinct regions of the brain that are used to process the two types of sentences: those in which word order determined the relationships between the sentence elements, and those in which inflection was providing the information.

In fact, Newman said, in trying to understand different types of grammar, humans draw on regions of the brain that are designed to accomplish primitive tasks that relate to the type of sentence they are trying to interpret. For instance, a word order sentence draws on parts of the frontal cortex that give humans the ability to put information into sequences, while an inflectional sentence draws on parts of the temporal lobe that specialize in dividing information into its constituent parts, the study demonstrated.

"These results show that people really ought to think of language and the brain in a different way, in terms of how the brain capitalizes on some perhaps preexisting computational structures to interpret language," Newport said.

Aside from providing perspective on how language abilities might have evolved in humans, the scientists' findings could perhaps eventually find applications in medicine, according to Newport. For instance, it could prove valuable in assessing how best to teach language to a person with brain damage in certain areas but not others, such as a stroke victim.


'/>"/>

Contact: Alan Blank
alan.blank@rochester.edu
585-314-9785
University of Rochester
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. After 5 years, free systems biology markup language has proven popular
2. Dyslexia varies across language barriers
3. Researchers report gene associated with language, speech and reading disorders
4. Reviews of microbial gene language published in special issue of Trends in Microbiology
5. Mouse model provides clues to human language development
6. Special issue of BMC Microbiology spotlights standardized language for describing microbes
7. Sicilian word enters British genetic language
8. Evolution in plain language
9. Great Ape Trust graduate students paper sheds light on bonobo language
10. Ape language pioneer Savage-Rumbaugh receives honorary Ph.D. from alma mater
11. Yerkes researchers identify language feature unique to human brain
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:4/3/2017)... , April 3, 2017  Data captured ... engineering platform, detected a statistically significant association ... prior to treatment and objective response of ... potential to predict whether cancer patients will ... treatment, as well as to improve both pre-infusion ...
(Date:3/29/2017)... March 29, 2017  higi, the health IT company ... North America , today announced a Series ... acquisition of EveryMove. The new investment and acquisition accelerates ... tools to transform population health activities through the collection ... higi collects and secures data today on ...
(Date:3/24/2017)... -- Research and Markets has announced the addition of ... - Industry Forecast to 2025" report to their offering. ... The Global Biometric Vehicle ... around 15.1% over the next decade to reach approximately $1,580 million ... estimates and forecasts for all the given segments on global as ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/12/2017)... ... October 12, 2017 , ... BioMedGPS announces expanded coverage ... its newest module, US Hemostats & Sealants. , SmartTRAK’s US Market for Hemostats ... sealants, synthetic sealants and biologic sealants used in surgical applications. BioMedGPS estimates the ...
(Date:10/12/2017)... , ... October 12, 2017 ... ... has launched Rosalind™, the first-ever genomics analysis platform specifically designed for life ... Named in honor of pioneering researcher Rosalind Franklin, who made a major ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... ... October 11, 2017 , ... The CRISPR-Cas9 ... enabling overexpression experiments and avoiding the use of exogenous expression plasmids. The simplicity ... for performing systematic gain-of-function studies. , This complement to loss-of-function studies, such ...
(Date:10/11/2017)... , ... October 11, 2017 , ... ComplianceOnline’s Medical Device ... on 7th and 8th June 2018 in San Francisco, CA. The Summit brings together ... as several distinguished CEOs, board directors and government officials from around the world to ...
Breaking Biology Technology: