Pagel says, "humans can adapt at the cultural level, acquiring the knowledge and producing the tools, shelters, clothing, and other artefacts necessary for survival in diverse habitats. Many [ But where, exactly, is language located in the brain? Research has identified two primary "language centers," which are both located on the left side of the brain. These are Broca's area , tasked with directing the processes that lead to speech utterance, and Wernicke's area , whose main role is to "decode" speech.
If a person experienced a brain injury resulting in damage to one of these areas, it would impair their ability to speak and comprehend what is said. However, additional research shows that learning more languages — and learning them well — has its own effect on the brain, boosting the size and activity of certain brain areas separate from the traditional "language centers.
A study led by researchers from Lund University in Sweden found that committed language students experienced growth in the hippocampus, a brain region associated with learning and spatial navigation, as well as in parts of the cerebral cortex, or the outmost layer of the brain. Moreover, a study previously covered by Medical News Today found evidence to suggest that the more languages we learn, especially during childhood, the easier our brains find it to process and retain new information.
In fact, researchers have drawn many connections between bilingualism or multilingualism and the maintenance of brain health. Multiple studies, for instance, have found that bilingualism can protect the brain against Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. In one such study , scientists from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom and Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India, worked with a group of people with Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, or frontotemporal dementia. The team noticed that in those who spoke a second language, dementia — referring to all three of the types that this study targeted — onset was delayed by as long as 4.
Another study, the findings of which appeared last year in the journal Neuropsychologia , also shed some light on why bilingualism might protect against cognitive decline. The authors explain that this is is likely because speaking two languages helps develop the medial temporal lobes of the brain, which play a key role in forming new memories, and it increases both cortical thickness and the density of gray matter, which is largely made of neurons.
Being bilingual has other benefits, too, such as training the brain to process information efficiently while expending only the necessary resources on the tasks at hand. However, does switching between different languages also alter our experience of the world that surrounds us?
Its use reveals unwitting attitudes. People who use more than one language frequently find themselves having somewhat different patterns of thought and reaction as they shift. Research now shows that her assessment was absolutely correct — the language that we use does change not only the way we think and express ourselves, but also how we perceive and interact with the world. A study that appeared in the journal Psychological Science , for instance, has describe how bilingual speakers of English and German tend to perceive and describe a context differently based on the language in which they are immersed at that moment.
When speaking in German, the participants had a tendency to describe an action in relation to a goal. For example, "That person is walking toward that building. To the contrary, when speaking in English, they would typically only mention the action: "That person is walking. Lera Broditsky, an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego — who specializes in the relationship between language, the brain, and a person's perception of the world — has also been reporting similar findings.
In a TED talk she gave in , which you can watch below, Broditsky illustrated her argument about just how greatly the language we use impacts our understanding of the world. Similarly, if you talk about cooking garlic, neurons associated with smelling will fire up. Since it is almost impossible to do or think about anything without using language -- whether this entails an internal talk-through by your inner voice or following a set of written instructions -- language pervades our brains and our lives like no other skill.
This article first appeared on Mosaic and stems from the longer feature: Why being bilingual helps keep your brain fit.
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Story highlights The regions of the brain involved with language are not straightforward Different words have been shown to trigger different regions of the brain The human brain can grow when people learn new languages. For more than a century, it's been established that our capacity to use language is usually located in the left hemisphere of the brain, specifically in two areas: Broca's area associated with speech production and articulation and Wernicke's area associated with comprehension.
Damage to either of these, caused by a stroke or other injury, can lead to language and speech problems or aphasia, a loss of language. In the past decade, however, neurologists have discovered it's not that simple: language is not restricted to two areas of the brain or even just to one side, and the brain itself can grow when we learn new languages.
Photos: Stars who speak other languages. Stars who speak other languages — While visiting an audience at Beijing's Tsinghua University on Thursday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spent 30 minutes speaking in Chinese -- a language he's been studying for several years. He's not the only well-known person who's fluent in something besides English. Here are some other examples:.
Hide Caption. Stars who speak other languages — Sandra Bullock was born in Virginia but raised in Germany, the homeland of her opera-singer mother. The later in life that first exposure to language occurs, the more pronounced and cemented the consequences.
Further, speakers of different languages develop different cognitive skills and predispositions, as shaped by the structures and patterns of their languages. Experience with languages in different modalities e. For example, speakers of sign languages develop different visuospatial attention skills than those who only use spoken language. Exposure to written language also restructures the brain, even when acquired late in life.
Even seemingly surface properties, such as writing direction left-to-right or right-to-left , have profound consequences for how people attend to, imagine, and organize information.
A dominant early approach to the study of language was to treat it as a separate module or organ within the brain. However, much modern. Our language abilities are enabled by a co-ordinated network of brain regions that have evolved to give humans a sophisticated ability to.
It has come to be the way it is through a personal history of language use within an individual's lifetime. It also actively and dynamically uses linguistic resources the categories, constructions, and distinctions available in language as it processes incoming information from across the senses. Put simply, one cannot understand the human brain without understanding the contributions of language, both in the moment of thinking and as a formative force during earlier learning and experience.
When we study language, we are getting a peek at the very essence of human nature. Languages—these deeply structured cultural objects that we inherit from prior generations—work alongside our biological inheritance to make human brains what they are. This is an article distributed under the terms of the Science Journals Default License.
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