Language and your brain

What is the relation between those two: the nature of human brain and the nature of language? The answer to this question is given by Victoria Fromkin and Robert Rodman (1998) who introduce us in their book to neurolinguistics, the interdisciplinary study concerned with the biological and neural language functions. They give us proves that human language is processed in the most complex of human body parts – the brain. Each single organ is made up of „approximately 10 billon nerve cells and billions of fibres which interconnect them”. Its role is to control and process your motor and sensory activities.

The outermost layer, located just under your skull, is called cerebral cortex and is made of grey matter (neuronal cells). Under this surface there are connecting fibres which form white mater. In the cortex lives your memory of grammar rules. Aside from that, Yang Y, Raine A (November 2009) claim that it „has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behaviour.” Everybody knows that the brain is divided into two hemispheres: left and right which are in turn linked by a belt of two billion fibres called corpus callosum.

In general, the left hemisphere controls movement of the right side of your body and the right hemisphere controls the movements of the left one which is called contralateral brain function. The left hemisphere is specifically related to language (Paul Broca, 1861) and therefore it is said to be lateralized. Broca’s (1861) idea that we speak thanks to the left
hemisphere is based on his researches that the left side damages resulted in loss of speech. This is why this particular spot inside our brains is now called Broca’s area. Today, patients with such damages are said to suffer Broca’s Aphasia which refers to language disorder caused by a brain attack, brain cancer, gunshot injury or other traumas.

The Broca’s Aphasia patients’ speech is characterized then with:

  • word disorder,
  • agrammatism,
  • word-finding difficulties,
  • slowiness and halting,
  • patients are also unable to read or write.

Another evidence that we speak with left hemisphere is dichotic listening test presented by Victoria Fromkin and Robert Rodman (1998). This test can be done by each of you. All you need is to grab your earphones and find the test online. During test taking there would be sent to you two different auditory signals through your earphones. You would hear two different words or sounds at the same time, for instance: the violin play in the right ear and the piano play in the left one, or a word „cat” in one ear and „dog” in the other. Linguistic material can differ widely. The most important is that words and syllables are frequently correct in the right ear, but non-verbal sounds, as for example street noise, are delivered to the left one, consequently if you hear „cat” in the right ear and „dog” in the left, you are more likely to repeat the word you heard in your right ear. Now you see that left hemisphere is dealing only with words and syllables but you need also right hemisphere to hear music and other sounds which are accompanying words such as rhythm, intonation, or somebody’s accents.

In accordance with Schiffer, professor in psychiatry and the author of Dual-Brain Psychology Model people divide into two groups: those emotional and impulsive or focused on the logical reasoning. Doctor Schiffer (1998),advocates that „we are of two minds, each one with a different degree of maturity, and each one associated with the left or the right brain.”

Is it truth, or maybe just a myth that hemispheres separately determine our psychological nature?

Are we actually dual minded? Carl Zimmer, New York Times science columnist, writes on his blog: „No matter how lateralized the brain can get, though, the two sides still work together. The pop psychology notion of a left brain and a right brain doesn’t capture their intimate working relationship. The left hemisphere specializes in picking out the sounds that form words and working out the syntax of the words, for example, but it does not have a monopoly on language processing. The right hemisphere is actually more sensitive to the emotional features of language, tuning in to the slow rhythms of speech that carry intonation and stress. Neuroscientists know that the hemispheres work together and that they do so by communicating through the corpus callosum. But exactly how the hemispheres cooperate is not so clear.”

I must say that I couldn’t agree more with Zimmer’s opinion stated in this matter, but still, I would like to present you with a left and right brain dominance table below:

Left BrainRight Brain
Logical reasoning
Critical thinking
Language skills
Linearly and sequentially information processing
Fact based decision making
Computation
Scepticism
Symbols
Rules

Creativity
Rhythm
Intuition
Daydreaming
Subjective thinking
Recognition of faces
Emotions
Music
Colour
Imagination

Would you like to take the right vs. left brain test after all? If yes, please click the link below:
sommer+sommer brain entertainment
Have Fun 🙂

References:

Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman(1998) An Introduction to Language. Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Yang Y, Raine A (November 2009). „Prefrontal structural and functional brain imaging findings in antisocial, violent, and psychopathic individuals: a meta-analysis”. Psychiatry Res 174 (2): 81–8. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2009.03.012. PMC 2784035. PMID 19833485

Schiffer, Fredric (1998) Of Two Minds: The Revolutionary Science of Dual-brain. The Free Press, New York.

Carl Zimmer’s BLOG

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