Why the language-ready brain is so complex

October 4th, 2019 by The capacity for language is distinctly human. It allows us to communicate, learn things, create culture, and think better. Because of its complexity, scientists have long struggled to understand the neurobiology of language. In the classical view, there are two major language areas in the left half of our brain. Broca's area (in the frontal lobe) is responsible for the production of language (speaking and writing), while Wernicke's area (in the temporal lobe) supports the comprehension of language (listening and reading). A large fibre tract (the arcuate fasciculus) connects these two 'perisylvian' areas (around the Sylvian fissure, the split which divides the two lobes). "The classical view is largely wrong," says Hagoort. Language is infinitely more complex than speaking or understanding single words, which is what the classical model was based on. While words are among the elementary 'building blocks' of language, we also need 'operations' to combine words into structured sentences, such as 'the editor of the newspaper loved the article'. To understand and interpret such an utterance, knowing the speech sounds (or letters) and meaning of the individual words is not enough. For instance, we also need information about the context (who is the speaker?), the intonation (is the tone cynical?), and knowledge of the world (what does an editor do?) Read more: Science Daily

How does your brain pick one word from 50,000 in 0.6 seconds?

April 6th, 2016 by A Bangor University expert believes the constant battle for prominence between words like "cat" and "dog" could help to explain. Dr Gary Oppenheim, of the university's Language Production Lab, is working to reveal the "algorithms and architectures" behind vocabulary. So he has built a computer system which aims to mimic human word production and "learns as it speaks". "Humans talk a lot and we're actually amazingly good at it," Dr Oppenheim said. "Often, we're producing two or three words per second and speaking about 15,000 words in a given day, which is pretty amazing. "So my question is how do we do this? Why are we so amazingly successful?" Read more: BBC News‎

Hardwiring languages in the brain

December 9th, 2015 by The first language you hear as a baby, even if only for a very brief period, seems to “hardwire” your brain. New research from McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute shows that traces of early speech recognition patterns remain even many years later. Fred Genesee (PhD) is professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at McGill University in Montreal and a co-author of the new study. The study entitled ”Past Experience Shapes Ongoing Neural Patterns for Language” was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications. This newest study builds on an earlier one in which Chinese-sounding words were tested on Chinese children who had been adopted from China as babies by French-speaking Quebec couples. The children had not heard Chinese spoken since the adoption and had then grown up as monolingual French speakers. In that study they were compared with fluently bilingual Canadian-born children of Chinese descent who learned to speak Chinese and then French. That study showed the adoptees’ brains, even though having no knowledge of Chinese, reacted similarly to the Chinese sounding words as those of the bilingual children. Read more: Radio Canada International‎

In A Turkish Village, A Conversation With Whistles, Not Words

September 28th, 2015 by In a remote mountain village high above Turkey's Black Sea coast, there are villagers who still communicate across valleys by whistling. Not just whistling as in a non-verbal, "Hey, you!" But actually using what they call their "bird language," Turkish words expressed as a series of piercing whistles. The village is Kuskoy, and it's inhabited by farmers who raise tea, corn, beets and other crops, and also keep livestock. The landscape is unusual by Turkish standards, and the residents are also considered a bit eccentric by other Turks. Everyone we met in Kuskoy was warm, welcoming and very generous. But when our meeting with Nazmiye Cakir, 60, was interrupted by an eruption of gunfire from across the valley, our hosts smiled reassuringly and paused, as if waiting for more. Sure enough, a few seconds later came an even louder volley – a response from our side of the mountain. Read more: NPR