Language and the brain
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Language and the brain. Insights from Neurolinguistics. Basic concepts of Neurology. Brain and spinal cord constitute the central nervous system (CNS) Purpose: Communication Cellular unit of the nervous system: neurons CNS consists of about 12 billion neurons.

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Language and the brain

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Language and the brain

Insights from Neurolinguistics

Basic concepts of Neurology

  • Brain and spinal cord constitute the central nervous system (CNS)

    • Purpose: Communication

  • Cellular unit of the nervous system: neurons

    • CNS consists of about 12 billion neurons.

    • Brain consists of about 10 billion neurons.

  • Brain stem is the control system

    • Regulates breathing, muscle movement, sleep, body temperature etc.

Modularity and Localization

Phrenology (Gall, 1796)

Basic concepts of Neurology

  • Brain consists of two hemispheres

    • Right side controls left body side and vice versa

    • Dichotic listening tests

  • Hemispheres are connected through Corpus callosum

  • Language is a left hemisphere phenomenon

Pioneers of Neurolinguistics

  • Paul Broca (French surgeon and anatomist)

    • Research on brain damage

    • Broca’s area

    • Broca’s aphasia

  • Carl Wernicke (German physician)

    • Confirmed theory of left hemisphere

    • Wernicke’s area

    • Wernicke’s aphasia

Aphasia and locality

Broca’s aphasia

  • What language impairments are found in Broca's aphasia?

  • Nonfluent, labored, and hesitant speech

  • absence of function words and inflectional morphology,

  • short utterances,

  • relatively intact comprehension,

  • awareness of deficit.

Wernicke's Aphasia

  • The language symptoms of Wernicke's aphasia are complementary to those of Broca's aphasia.

  • fluent but empty speech,

  • grammatical inflections, normal prosody

  • utterances of normal length

  • poor comprehension

  • unaware of deficit.

Goodglass, H., & Kaplan, E. (1983). Boston Diagnostic Aphasia Examination. (2nd ed.). Media, PA: Williams & Wilkins.


“Cookie jar…fall over…chair…water…empty…ov…ov…[Examiner: “overflow?”] Yeah.”

Heny, Jeannine. “Brain and Language (Clark, 634-657).


Well, this is…mother is away here workingouto’here to get her better, but when she’s working, the two boys looking in the other part. One their small tile into her time here. She’s working another time because she’s getting, too.”

Heny, Jeannine. “Brain and Language (Clark, 634-657).

Signer Aphasia

  • Young man, both spoken and sign language:

    • Accident and damage to brain

    • Both spoken and sign languages are affected

  • Deaf-mute person, sign language:

    • Stroke and damage to left-side of the brain

    • Impairment in sign language

Language and brain development

  • Language learning and brain development go hand in hand.

  • Children need to be exposed to language early.

  • Brain is resilient:

  • Early damage can cause right hemisphere to take over language control.

The critical period hypothesis

  • Explain how Genie’s language development fits into the theories of Lenneberg, Chomsky and brain development.

  • According to this text, what is the strongest evidence supporting the theory of a “critical period” for language acquisition?

  • Was Genie’s early language deprivation the ONLY factor that contributed to her abnormal language development? Explain what other factor(s) might have been involved.

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