Thursday, October 15, 2009

This is Your Brain on Language

Researchers have been able to determine that the human brain can think of a word, apply the rules of grammar to it, and send it to the mouth to be spoken in just 600 milliseconds. The revelation, detailed in the October 16 issue of the journal Science, brings scientists one step closer to understanding the process of language production within the brain, specifically word recall, the application of grammar, and then actually speaking the word.

Because complex language is unique to humans, it has been difficult to investigate the mechanisms behind how it works. Brain-imaging methods MRI are generally all that are possible to use in humans, but it's impossible to single out individual neurons over such short periods of time using this method. As a consequence, scientists have been unable to determine the specific mechanism within the brain responsible for linguistics in detail. Until now.

For the study, the researchers used intra-cranial electrophysiology to monitor brain language-processing activity while volunteers repeated words or spoke them in different forms, such as past tense or plural.

This team of scientists have shown that distinct linguistic processes are computed within small regions of Broca's area in the brain, including word identity, grammar and pronunciation. The findings challenge the widely held belief that Broca's area handles speech while another part of the brain, called Wernicke's area, handles reading and hearing.

So today's post is a little psychological, a little scientific, but this kind of information is important, especially when it comes to determining and treating language disorders. Approximately 7.5 million people in the United States have trouble speaking. More than 15 million individuals in the world stutter. And between 6 and 8 million individuals in the United States have some form of language impairment.


  1. Our species is very hard-wired for language. This goes to how important it is for our survival - and how we came to depend on it to create the little tribes that take care of each other.

    We are an incredibly social kind of ape.

  2. Excellent observation! And I'm curious to see how this discovery will effect future communication. You never come of discoveries like this.