|MadSci Network: Other|
Sheila, You've asked a very sophisticated question. I'm impressed! This is an exciting time for research in how the brain processes language. A whole new field has emerged called "cognitive neuroscience" that aims to understand how the brain accomplishes complex tasks like language. Most of the knowledge we have about brain mechanisms comes from studying animals because it is unethical to experiment with humans' brains. No animal species (even apes) has proven to be as sophisticated with language use as humans, so it has been difficult to study brain mechanisms in animals. Until just recently, scientists relied mainly on "natural experiments" such as human brain injuries arising from accidents. Some patients who sustain injury to certain areas of the brain experience a dramatic loss in their ability to use language. By examining and testing these patients and then later examining their brains after death, scientists have suggested that language processes may be localized to some specific brain regions. In particular, for most people, the left half of the brain appears to be much more active in processing language than the right half. In the last decades, scientists have developed new "brain-imaging" tools that allow us to observe the activity of the human brain without surgery. These new tools are creating many new avenues for studying the brain's role in language. The question of how infants acquire a native language is a focus of my own research. Some scientists argue that human infants are born with specialized brain mechanisms that allow them to acquire language. Others argue that specialized mechanisms might not be necessary because infants are remarkably good at learning the patterns of sound that they experience from the speakers around them. Babies are surprisingly capable of learning very complex patterns! Many scientists are currently conducting experiments to test which of these alternatives best explains human infants acquisition of language. There are many more very interesting facts about infants acquisition of language and brain mechanisms of language. Last week, US News and World Report had a cover story about infant language acquisition that may interest you. You can read it (for free!) online at the following address:http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/980615/15lang.htm
If you have any more questions, or if you'd like to where to find out more on your own, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lori Holt
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