Language in the Brain (BS 144) with Angela Friederici

Angela Friederici  (click image to play audio)

Angela Friederici (click image to play audio)

Angela Friederici’s new book Language in Our Brain: The Origins of a Uniquely Human Capacity captures decades of research. Although the book is quite technical, our recent conversation (BS 144) provides an excellent overview to listeners of all backgrounds. Our earliest knowledge was acquired from patients with brain lesions, but newer tools allow researchers to correlate concepts from Linguistics, such as phonology, syntax and semantics, with the neuroscientific tools such as EEG and imaging.

EEG evidence shows that phonology (sound) and syntax (grammar) are processed very quickly (by ~150ms) and automatically, while semantics (meaning) is processed a little later. The question of where each of this processes happens is challenging to answer because current imaging methods like fMRI provide excellent spatial resolution, but are much too slow to separate out these components. In her interview Dr. Friederici explains how experiments are designed to overcome this limitation.

There is also an increasing interest in the connections between the various brain areas that are involved in language. It appears that similiar areas (frontal and temporal) are used across languages but there a marked differences in the connecting pathways that reflect both what language a person speaks, but also other factors. For example, sign language is processed in the same areas as spoken language, but the pathways from the auditory cortex are less developed.

We also talk briefly about the developmental aspects of language and Language in Our Brain: The Origins of a Uniquely Human Capacity provides an extensive introduction to the current literature, including reflections on how the language aspects of the brain evolved.

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