Japanese, Italian, Ukrainian, Swahili, Tagalog, and dozens of other spoken languages cause the Global Language Network to project itself into the brains of native speakers. This hub of language processing has been studied extensively in English speakers, but now neuroscientists have confirmed that exactly the same network is activated in speakers of 45 different languages representing 12 distinct language families.
“This study is very basic, with some of the findings extending from English to a wide range of languages,” said senior author Evelina Fedorenko, associate professor of neuroscience at MIT and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. statement (Opens in a new tab).
“Hopefully now that we see that basic properties seem general across languages, we can ask about potential differences between languages and language families in how they are implemented in brainand we can study phenomena not already in English,” Fedorenko said. For example, speakers of ‘tonal’ languages, such as Mandarin, convey the meanings of different words through shifts in their dialect, or tone of voice; English is not a tonal language, so it may It is processed a little differently in the brain.
The study was published Monday (July 18) in the journal natural neuroscience (Opens in a new tab), featuring two native speakers of each language, who underwent brain scans while performing various cognitive tasks. Specifically, the team scanned the participants’ brains using a technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which tracks the flow of oxygenated oxygen. the blood through the brain. Active brain cells require more energy and oxygen, so fMRI provides an indirect measure of brain cell activity.
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During the fMRI scans, participants listened to passages from Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (commonly known as “Alice in Wonderland”) and read them in their native languages. The researchers hypothesized that all listeners should use the same language network to process stories read in their native languages.
Participants also listened to several recordings that, in theory, would not activate this language network. For example, they listened to recordings in which the words of a native speaker were distorted beyond recognition and to passages read by a speaker of an unfamiliar language. In addition to completing these language-related tests, participants were asked to solve math problems and perform memory tasks; Theoretically, like incoherent recordings, neither memory nor math tests should activate the language network.
Language domains [of the brain] They should not respond during other tasks, such as a spatial working memory task,” first author Saima Malik Moralida, a doctoral student in the Harvard Biological and Audiological Sciences and Technology Program, said in the statement. And that’s what we found across speakers of the 45 languages we tested.”
In native English speakers, the areas of the brain that are active during language processing appear mostly in the left hemisphere of the brain, primarily in the frontal lobe, located behind the forehead, and in the temporal lobe, located behind the ear. By creating “maps” of brain activity from all of their subjects, the researchers revealed that these same brain regions activate regardless of which language is heard.
The team observed slight differences in brain activity between individuals who spoke different languages. However, the same small degree of variation was also observed among native English speakers.
These findings are not necessarily surprising, but they lay a critical foundation for future studies, the team wrote in their report. “While we expected this to be the case, this presentation is an essential basis for future systematic, in-depth, and nuanced language comparisons,” they wrote.
Originally published on Live Science.