Studying the brain is a type of inception where the brain is trying to understand itself. Funny enough, no neurologist, psychiatrist, nor cognitive scientist fully understands the power of the brain. Language is just as powerful. Language provides the unique ability for humans to ponder, express, argue, and gossip, and is a tool which allows the brain to send electrical impulses for our bodies to act and react. Though, which areas of the brain specifically deal with the comprehension and production of language?
Doctors, psychologists, and your favourite chef gain insight from injuries and disease. Meaning that a lot of information known about language and the brain is due to specific cases, accidents, and illnesses which impair human language function. Our cerebral cortex has many efferent and afferent connections to receive, send, and relay information to different areas of the brain. Language is localised on the left hemisphere (as well as logic, writing, and mathemstics) of the brain in specific areas titled “Broca’s area” and “Wernicke’s area”.
Broca’s Area is activated when people are speaking, and this area influences muscle movements for pronunciation. This term is coined by Pierre Paul Broca to describe people as having “telegraphic speech”, meaning content and grammar is missing from speech. An example of telegraphic speech is “hockey play, Sarah” rather than saying “Sarah and I played hockey today”. Patients with Broca’s aphasia know what they want to say but struggle expressing themselves.
Wernicke’s Area deals with comprehension and understanding, coined by Carl Wernicke who analyzed brain injuries which caused aphasia (speech impairments due to brain damage). The speech of an individual who has Wernicke’s aphasia is pretty non-sensical. For example: when asked the question “what do you do with a hockey stick?”, someone with Wernicke’s aphasia may respond “stick a pick. Soap and stick”. This area of the brain also deals with decoding the meaning of a word which has double meaning. For example the connotation of “bank” to mean either a river bank and a financial institution.
The primary auditory cortex of the brain decodes information on tone, language sounds, and even body language. The message is able to pass between the left and right hemisphere. The Wernicke’s area in the left hemisphere of the brain is in charge of the comprehension of speech. The inferior temporal lobe is responsible for word recognition. Finally, Broca’s area is responsible for creating a verbal response to the received message.
Learning a language is challenging. Trying to understand its pathways in the brain is more so.