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Language and the Brain

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emily maloney

on 19 November 2013

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Transcript of Language and the Brain

Language and the Brain

A Prezi Presentation by Emily Maloney

LIN 6150 Foundations of Linguistic Theory

November 19, 2013

Edna Andrews
Language and brain: Recasting meaning in the definition of human language
- Basic brain information, interesting fact, Broca and Wernicke's parts of the brain, brain study methods, trends in the study of language, H.M. study

W. Tecumseh Fitch
Prolegomena to a Future Science of Biolinguistics
- An interesting study of birdsong, cognitive linguistics vs. neurolinguistics, Chomsky's contribution to brain study

Videos about acquisition and Obama's association with future brain study.

Fundamental knowledge of neural anatomy:
Six defining structures of the central nervous system

- spinal cord and brain stem

- the medulla oblongata

- the pons and cerebellum

- the midbrain

- the diencephalon [containing the thalamus and hypothalamus]

- the cerebral hemispheres

The cerebral cortex is divided into four separate lobes

- frontal

- temporal

- occipital

- parietal

The features of the brain are characterized by
hills (gyri) and valleys (sulci).
The two hemispheres control opposite sides
of the body and are asymmetrical.

Interesting Fact
“...most of the human neural and glial cells are formed before birth,
thus allowing for a shift in attention to the enormous growth of the
individual neurons (including cell bodies, dendrites, and synapses, but
not the actual number of neurons) without forgetting that there is
significant and consistent cell death throughout the lifespan of the organism.
It is useful to compare the facts that while most cells are in place at birth,
the weight and size of the human brain increases until about the age of
twenty, at which point both weight and size begin to decline.”

Andrews, Edna. (2011). Language and brain: Recasting meaning in the
definition of human language. Semiotica. 184-1/4, 11-32.

Broca and Wernicke found parts of the brain that,
if damaged, would promote semi to full loss of language
use/comprehension. However, other parts of the brain
have been found to be associated with language as well.

But language is not just found in these two areas.
Let's look at some videos!
youtube language acquisition 2

How do we study the brain?
Through both invasive and
noninvasive methods:

The pros and cons of each are
outlined in the Edna Andrews article.

Major Trends in the study of language in the brain include
1. The role of innateness and learning in human language
2. The degree of autonomy of language centers in the brain
3. The definition and importance of critical periods

The notion of critical periods is controversial.
Environment has been found to influence critical periods.
What happens if humans don’t learn language for an entire generation? Will the next generation have language?

In Fitch’s article Prolegomena to a Future Science of
Biolinguistics, a summary of a study performed by Peter
Marler is provided about birds and their song.

Baby birds were taken from their parents and raised
without any noise to see if they would create the same
song or any song by themselves. Let's see a video on the

Cognitive linguistics vs. neurolinguistics
One is medical and one is not.
Trauma to the brain affects language
therefore there needs to be a field of study
which links the two. Fitch states that we need more
scientists to contribute to this field. He says
Biolinguistics is a nascent field and require more

Another interesting study:
H.M. suffered a brain injury as a teenager and experienced grand mal epileptic seizures. To stop the seizures, a surgery was performed at the age of 27. This was a major breakthrough for neuroscientists as it revealed the medial temporal lobe was responsible for memory. But what about language?

H.M. was unable to form any new memories after the surgery. It was predicted that he would not be able to learn any new language as well as experience significant language deterioration over time. H. M. was studied over a period of 40 years to track his linguistic abilities.

…“in spite of his profound anterograde amnesia, H. M. displays dynamic language skills”

“In our sessions with H. M. in February, 2001, it was clear that he had most certainly learned new lexical items (cf. “Jackie Onassis”). The post-1953 vocabulary included proper names, common nouns, compounds, and in some instances contextual information (cf. use of the word “astronaut” when describing the Challenger disaster).”

- Andrews, Edna. (2011)
Fitch mentions that Chomsky’s studies contributed greatly to the field of Biolinguistics due to his theories that language is linked to biology and the concept of Universal Grammar (UG).

Obama involved with brain studies?
A PBS online from April 2013 article called “Obama Hopes Mapping Project Reveals
Brain’s Mysteries” mentions that the president has allocated $100 million in the
2014 budget for a project called BRAIN: Brain Research through Advancing
Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN). This endeavor has been compared to the
Human Genome Project and Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to successfully travel to the


Scientists hope that the study will
“unlock the secrets behind Alzheimer’s,
Autism, strokes, traumatic brain injuries
(TBIs), and some psychiatric disorders.”

And hopefully can expose the unknowns
about language in the brain as well!
Full transcript