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Paul University Philippines

Tuguegarao City, Cagayan 3500

DRL 305: Psycholinguistics

Language and the Brain

Bryan B. Echanique
PhD RL Student
First Trimester, 2019-2020

1. Present a brief survey of brain structure;

2. Point out the parts of the brain which are critical to
language production and comprehension;
3. Differentiate language localization and lateralization;
4. Discuss some types of brain disturbance that result
from brain damage;
5. Explain brain plasticity;
6. Affirm the autonomy of language faculty;
7. Draw the implications of researches on aphasia.

1. Brain structure
2. Language areas in the brain
3. Localization and lateralization
4. Brain disturbance and speech disorders
5. Brain plasticity
6. Language autonomy
7. Research on aphasia
Language and the brain

The study of the relationship between
language and the brain.
The human brain

▪ Composed of +/- 10 billion

nerve cells (neurons)
▪ The highest level of the brain is
the cerebral cortex (found only
in mammals, and human has the
greatest proportion of cortex).
▪ Language representation and
processing occurs in the cortex.
Figure 1. The cerebral cortex (“Language and the human brain,” n.d.)
Cerebral hemispheres

The brain is composed of cerebral

▪ Right hemisphere: supervises left
side of body
▪ Left hemisphere: supervises right
side of body

“Contralateral brain function”/

“Contralateral neural control”
Figure 2. Brain hemispheres (Mayo Clinic, n.d.)
Contralateral brain function

Figure 3. Right-handedness and the brain (Mastin, 2012)

Corpus callosum

The corpus callosum connects the

left and right hemispheres.
▪ Network of two million fibers
▪ Location: Above the
thalamus, under the cortex
▪ Function: Allows the left and
right hemispheres to
communicate by transmitting
neural messages between them Figure 4. Corpus callosum (Brain Made Simple, n.d.)
Modularity of the brain
The brain is divided into distinct
anatomical faculties that are directly
responsible for specific cognitive
- Left hemisphere is superior for
language, rhythmic perception,
temporal-order judgments, and
mathematical thinking skills
- Right hemisphere does better in
pattern-matching tasks,
recognizing faces, and spatial
orientation. Figure 5. Left and right brain hemispheres
(MC2.Bid4Papers, 2017)
Localization and Lateralization

▪ Localization: Different human cognitive abilities

and behaviors are localized in specific parts of the
o e.g., speech comprehension is controlled by the
Wernicke’s area
▪ Lateralization: Any cognitive function that is
localized primarily in one side of the brain
o e.g., language is lateralized to the left
Localization and Lateralization

Figure 3. Brain localization (Mastin, 2012)

Figure 6. Lateralization of cerebral functions (Tejano, 2016)
Language lateralization
▪ Split-brain patients: evidence for lateralization
o In the past, some cases of severe epilepsy were treated by
cutting the corpus callosum, severing the connection between
the two hemispheres.
▪ Messages sent to the hemispheres cause different
responses in split-brain patients.
o Object placed in the left hand (right hemisphere): object can be
used but not named
o Object placed in the right hand (left hemisphere): object can be
named and described immediately
Language areas in the brain

1. Broca’s area
(or anterior speech cortex)
- Located in the frontal part of the
left hemisphere of the brain
- Discovered in 1861 by French
surgeon Paul Broca, who found
that it serves a vital role in the
generation of articulate speech
- Responsible for speech
Language areas in the brain

2. Wernicke’s area
(or posterior speech cortex)
- Located in the posterior third of
the upper temporal convolution of
the left hemisphere of the brain
- First described in 1874 by
German neurologist Carl
- Contains motor neurons involved
in the comprehension of speech
Language areas in the brain

3. Motor cortex
- An area that generally controls
movement of the muscles
- Initiates impulses that travel
through the brain stem to produce
audible sounds
Language areas in the brain

4. Acuate fasciculus
- A bundle of axons (or nerve
fibers) that connects Broca’s area
and Wernicke's area in the brain
Brain disturbance and speech disorders
1. Broca’s aphasia
- Results from damage to the
frontal lobe of the brain
- Individuals with this form of
aphasia are able to comprehend
speech but have great difficulty
expressing their thoughts.
- People with Broca aphasia speak
in short phrases that include only
nouns and verbs (telegraphic
Brain disturbance and speech disorders
1. Broca’s aphasia
- Effects:
▪ intelligence not necessarily affected
▪ understanding not necessarily affected
▪ production severely impaired
o Trouble with function words (e.g., articles, prepositions,
o Trouble with inflectional morphology (e.g., -ed, -s)
o Difficulties forming grammatical sentences
o Difficulties understanding complex sentences (e.g.,
passives) (“Language and the Human Brain,” n.d.).
Brain disturbance and speech disorders

1. Broca’s aphasia
- Example: Eliminates inflections
such as -ed or end of the word
such as -er (in ‘after’).
Brain disturbance and speech disorders

1. Broca’s aphasia
- Example: “Yes ... Monday ... Dad, and Dad ... hospital, and ...
Wednesday, Wednesday, nine o’clock and ... Thursday, ten
o'clock ... doctors, two, two ... doctors and ... teeth, yah. And a
doctor ... girl, and gums, and I.”

- Example: “Me ... build-ing ... chairs, no, no cab-in-ets. One,

saw ... then, cutting wood ... working ...”
Brain disturbance and speech disorders

2. Wernicke’s aphasia
- Results from damage to the
temporal lobe of the brain
- Individuals with Wernicke aphasia
speak in long, garbled sentences
(word salad) and have poor
speech comprehension.
Brain disturbance and speech disorders

2. Wernicke’s aphasia
- Effects:
▪ Fluent speech
▪ Good intonation
▪ Lexical errors
▪ Nonsense words
▪ “Word salad”
▪ Comprehension impaired (“Language and the Human Brain,”
Brain disturbance and speech disorders

2. Wernicke’s aphasia
- Example: When asked to repeat
the word glass, he or she might
say ‘window’ or something related
to glass.
Brain disturbance and speech disorders

2. Wernicke’s aphasia
- Example:
DOCTOR: How do you feel?

PATIENT: I felt worse because I can no longer keep in

mind from the mind of the minds to keep me
from mind and up to the ear which can be to
find among ourselves.
Brain disturbance and speech disorders

2. Wernicke’s aphasia
- Example:
D: How are you today, Mrs. A?
P: Yes.
D: Have I ever tested you before?
P: No. I mean I haven’t.
D: Can you tell me what your name is?
P: No, I don’t I…right I’m right now here.
D: What is your address?
P: I cud if I can help these this like you know… to make it.
We are seeing for him. That is my father.
Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas

Broca’s area controls


Wernicke’s area controls

Brain disturbance and speech disorders

3. Global aphasia
- Results from extensive brain
- Individuals with global aphasia
exhibit symptoms of both Broca
and Wernicke aphasia.
Speech therapy

Speech therapy may be useful

to treat aphasia. In some
instances, improvement may be
due to assumption of some
language functions by other
areas of the brain, but recovery
is usually incomplete.
Aphasia therapy

“Several studies feature state-

of-the-art computer technology,
using a virtual therapist to
deliver intensive therapy.
Therapy can be done independ-
ently in the participant’s home”
(Center for Aphasia Research
and Treatment, 2017).
Hemispherectomy: a medical procedure that involves removing one
hemisphere of the brain
In adult hemispherectomy patients:
▪ Left cerebral hemisphere removed
o lose most but not all of their linguistic competence
o lose the ability to speak and process complex syntactic patterns
o retain some language comprehension ability
▪ Right cerebral hemisphere removed
o difficulty in understanding jokes and metaphors
o cannot use loudness and intonation as cues to whether a speaker
is angry, excited, or merely joking.
Thus: The right hemisphere also has a role in normal language use!

To some extent, the brain may reassign functions to different

areas of the brain. This is due to the plasticity of the brain.

▪ Left hemisphere is predisposed to learn language.

▪ During language development, the right hemisphere can

take over many language functions if necessary.

▪ Child hemispherectomy patients are able to reacquire a

linguistic system, albeit delayed.

▪ In adults, the right hemisphere cannot take over linguistic

functions anymore.

▪ Plasticity of the brain decreases with age.

Language autonomy

Is language faculty already present at birth, or is it derived from more

general intelligence?
Children with SLI (Specific Language Impairment):
▪ have difficulties in acquiring language, BUT
▪ do not have brain lesions responsible for language difficulties
▪ have no other cognitive deficits
Language ability ≠ General cognition
Grammatical faculty is separate from other cognitive abilities.
Language autonomy
Christopher (IQ = 60-70)
▪ Unable to button his shirt or play tic-tac-
toe BUT…
▪ Remarkable language skills
✓ Could read at age 3
✓ Knows many languages from different
families (Germanic, Slavic, Turkic) –
✓ Easily learns new languages

Hence: Language ability ≠ General cognition

Figure 8. Christopher
(“Language and the Human Brain,” n.d.)
Language autonomy

Evidence from aphasia, SLI, and the asymmetry of

abilities in linguistic savants strongly supports the view
that language faculty is autonomous, genetically
determined, and consists of multiple brain modules.

It is not derived from more general intelligence.

Research on aphasia

“Research shows that people with aphasia can continue

to improve their language even years after their stroke,
and that intensive therapy is essential for making
changes in the brain” (Center for Aphasia Research and
Treatment, 2017).

Anggraini, L. F., & Farida, N. U. (2014, October 14). Language and the brain (PDF document). Retrieved from

Brain hemispheres (Online image). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic website:

Bandith, B. (2011, June 8). Chapter 6: Language and the brain (PDF document). Retrieved from

Center for Aphasia Research and Treatment. (2017). Aphasia research studies. Retrieved from Shirley Ryan Ability Lab

Christopher (Online image). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Corpus callosum (Online image). (n.d.). Retrieved from Brain Made Simple website:

Joynt, R. (2019, January 31). Aphasia. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Language and the human brain (PDF document). (n.d.). Retrieved from

MC2.Bid4Papers. (2017, December 20). Left and right brain hemispheres (Online image). Retrieved from

Mastin, L. (2012). Right-handedness and the brain (Online image). Retrieved from https://www.rightleftrightwrong.

Tejano, J. (2016). Lateralization of cerebral functions. Retrieved from


The cerebral cortex (Online image). (n.d.). Retrieved from