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Localizing Language In the Brain

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the look-at-my-big-language-center-babe dept.

Science 79

RogerRoast writes "A new study by MIT scientists pinpoints areas of the brain used exclusively for language (PDF), providing a partial answer to a longstanding debate in cognitive science. According to the study, there are parts of our brain dedicated to language and only language. After having their subjects perform the initial language task, which they call a 'functional localizer,' they had each one do a subset of seven other experiments: one on exact arithmetic, two on working memory, three on cognitive control, and one on music; since these are the functions 'most commonly argued to share neural machinery with language.' The authors say the results don't imply that every cognitive function has its own dedicated piece of cortex; after all, we're able to learn new skills, so there must be some parts of the brain that are both high-level and functionally flexible."

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fp (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37264062)

first cortex

Re:fp (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37264232)

Being first usually may imply you used less brain-time reading the article than the rest of the people ... or whatever the ones who post around here are.

Re:fp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37264504)

there was an article?

Re:fp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37267820)

what's an "article"?
Something to do with clothes?

there are parts of our brain... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37264228)

there are parts of our brain dedicated to language and only language.

And there are parts of my brain dedicated to spotting that kind of redundancy and all other kinds of redundancy.

Re:there are parts of our brain... (1)

ledow (319597) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264286)

"and all others"

Re:there are parts of our brain... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37264340)

*whoooooosh*

Multi-lingual? (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264280)

I would love to know if people that speak multiple languages get one language area for all languages or one area per language.

If we get multiple areas, are they next to each other?

Does it make a difference if you learn the second language when you are young, or later in life?

Finally, what about computer languages such as Perl/C++/Java etc. Are they treated the same as English/Spanish/etc. or more like Math?

Sorry, no answers here, just more questions.

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

Kashgarinn (1036758) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264370)

Warning: Uninformed opinion:
That will depend on how you learn the new language.

If you learn a new language by babbling it with friends, not a care in the world whether you're doing it right or wrong, just effortlessly correcting anything you discover you're doing wrong, you'll learn it in a certain way.

If you systematically learn a language in school, but never use it in the real world, you'll learn it in a certain, different way.

If you learn a language constantly worried whether anything you say is wrong or right, you'll learn it in another different way.

Why? Because what situations/surroundings you learn the language in, and what other emotions you feel all has an effect on the connections to the language within the brain.

Re:Multi-lingual? (4, Insightful)

Mox-Dragon (87528) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265162)

I've got an undergraduate degree in linguistics - which, granted, isn't much, but i did spend some time learning about language acquisition. The general consensus within linguistics is that there exists both a language acquisition device (LAD) and a critical period for language learning. Language learning is a biological process on par with learning how to process visual data that (in neurotypical individuals) unfolds regularly given adequate input. After somewhere between 11-13 years the LAD switches off, and languages that are learned after this critical period are typically learned imperfectly.

I've seen side-by-side fMRI scans of people speaking two languages they learned before the critical period and of people speaking a language learned before and a language learned after. In the true bilingual speakers, both languages lit up the same area of the brain, and in the speakers who learned a new language after the critical period, the post-critical language lit up a different area of the brain from the native language.

As far as post-critical-period second language acquisition goes, there is some indication that the LAD is involved in the process - there is a specific order in which English speakers will learn grammatical features of German regardless of who taught them or what method they used to learn the language. There are actually some language acquisition theorists (Krashen in particular) who think that language processing and production (at a grammatical level) is all done at an automatic level, and that all our conscious brains do is monitor what comes out.

The environment you learn the language in and your degree of identification with the target language's culture do play a pretty big role in how accurately you'll be able to reproduce the target language, though.

Also, programming "languages" aren't capital-L languages and are (presumably) not handled by the part of the brain that handles language.

Did amalgimated & union languages flag MRI sca (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37266634)

We all know that modern English is an amalgamation of Saxon (non-latin deutch, like Dutch Netherlands and such), Norse (hindian), French (latin) and all this is basically extension ontop of the original roots of Anglo (Engles Brittania); However, here is what I want to know about those MRI scans: how does MRI report of someone who relearned the branches of modern English particularly when that Union shared similar construction from other languages, how does the brain behave when development to those branches was after that LAD period? If somone learns modern English from childhood, then far into life they learn Dutch and Norse and French and Angle then surely their brain will notice loan-words in addition to the bag of words specific to the language being used?

Re:Multi-lingual? (2)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37266990)

"After somewhere between 11-13 years the LAD switches off, "

Pure bullshit. I have a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience and I can tell you emphatically that language ability does not SHUT OFF after age 13. I don't expect a linguistics person to understand neuroscience but you'd think you get a basic understanding of how the brain works!

The authors are talking about a debate that has been raging on for decades. The age old debate between cognitive functions being localized in brain regions, i.e., Centers or distributed across regions.

What the data clearly shows is that the brain is rather plastic and dynamic. So much so that you can have steel pipe through your brain and have no effect on language ability. Contrast that to having a lesion in a certain area in the brain and you can't speak. The data also shows there are areas that are strong in language ability. It also shows language is not limited to those areas and damage to the language "centers" can be over-come.

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

Mox-Dragon (87528) | more than 2 years ago | (#37271544)

I didn't say that language ability shuts off after the critical period. I did say that the Language Acquisition Device - a device specifically in place for acquiring a first language - switches off after the critical period. There is some debate within the second language acquisition community about whether or not the LAD plays a role in SLA, but it's pretty obvious that learning a second language happens in a radically different way than native language acquisition does.

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

mcswell (1102107) | more than 2 years ago | (#37281778)

...or at least second language learning after a certain age behaves differently. Given how easily and naturally (without instruction) young children learn a second language, I wouldn't be surprised if young children learn a second language more or less the same way they learned their first. Putting it differently, it may be that the LAD is for acquiring a language, not necessarily one's first language.

Re:Multi-lingual? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37267386)

Also, programming "languages" aren't capital-L languages and are (presumably) not handled by the part of the brain that handles language.

well of course they are. programming languages (type-2 grammars) are just higher on the chomsky hierararchy and trivial to process in comparison to natural language (type-0 grammars). where else would language fundamentals such as recursion, syntax, tokenizing, parsing, backtracking et cetera (all part of programming languages) be processed if not in the hypothetical LAD?

Re:Multi-lingual? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37268716)

A language is not wholly determined by its grammar. Natural languages may have type-0 grammars, but a natural language has a wholly different kind of semantic and pragmatic structure from a formal language. In a formal language, each string is a signifier which points to only one signified - it has one and only one firmly bounded value. In a natural language, each string is a signifier that has one or more signifieds - it has multiple values, and their values are not well-bounded. In other words, in a formal language, tokenizing is regular, while in a natural language, tokenizing is not regular. This is something that the early formal language theorists didn't understand, which is why they thought that machine translation would be an easy problem to solve (you know, back in the 1960s, when they figured it would be about as hard as writing a program that could play chess). Testing both formal and natural languages under an fMRI might help us to understand if these different aspects of language are handled by different parts of the brain.

Re:Multi-lingual? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37269372)

Yes, but like Chomsky you're focusing only on the syntax and forgetting about the semantics. I about not care syntax if myself understood I make.

Re:Multi-lingual? (2)

Nyder (754090) | more than 2 years ago | (#37268964)

... After somewhere between 11-13 years the LAD switches off, and languages that are learned after this critical period are typically learned imperfectly.

...

So your saying the Spanish classes I flunked in high school wasn't my fault?

Re:Multi-lingual? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37270012)

Now, to find an explanation for those English classes...

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

jedwidz (1399015) | more than 2 years ago | (#37271496)

Clearly language learning should be emphasized in primary school; by high school you've already lost your peak learning capacity for language.

I can see that the high-school language thing would've made sense once, since it was an academic subject with greater emphasis on written translation and defunct languages (Latin and Ancient Greek), and well beyond the average primary school teacher or student.

But now, we care more about fluent communication in living languages, and there's generally no shortage of native and multilingual teachers. So if there hasn't been a big shake up since I left school, it's long overdue already.

Speaking for my own experience though, I had little exposure to anything other than my native English prior to high school. My high school French was a write-off; I barely passed. But well into my twenties I made good inroads into learning both German and Chinese. You can learn as an adult, but it takes a big time commitment. If you're unable to commit to an hour a day over several years, try something else instead, because it's race between learning and forgetting.

Re:Multi-lingual? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37269966)

Although everything mentioned above is true, also note that there has been significant work in aphasia (language impairment from brain injury). That generally Broca and Wernicke both identified brain regions with a specific form of aphasia. We already know "parts of our brain dedicated to language" because of the extensive research in that field which confirms it... ... unlike AGW...

On-topic segue to troll complete!

Re:Multi-lingual? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37270684)

"The general consensus within linguistics is that there exists both a language acquisition device (LAD) and a critical period for language learning"

What consensus are you talking about, that's the old chomskyan mambo-jumbo about language acquisition and the "critical period" is as solid as the ether theory...

Re:Multi-lingual? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37272370)

there is a specific order in which English speakers will learn grammatical features of German regardless of who taught them or what method they used to learn the language.

Show me russian text written by latvian, estonian or bulgarian, and I'll identify respective authors quite reliably. It's only a matter of difference between various languages.

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

mcswell (1102107) | more than 2 years ago | (#37281806)

So you're agreeing, right?

Re:Multi-lingual? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37278904)

Do non-spoken languages use the same parts of the brain? (I'm thinking sign language but not sure if there are other non-spoken ones.)

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

gr8dude (832945) | about 2 years ago | (#37283668)

> In the true bilingual speakers, both languages lit up the same
> area of the brain, and in the speakers who learned a new
> language after the critical period, the post-critical language
> lit up a different area of the brain from the native language.

Hmm, so the areas are different, but is that an indicator of quality? You write that "languages that are learned after this critical period are typically learned imperfectly", but it can be caused by something else (the brain area is just correlated with that and is not the cause of poor performance).

Re:Multi-lingual? (2)

Panoptes (1041206) | more than 2 years ago | (#37267300)

Good points. And there's another dimension, that hasn't been picked up in this discussion yet - modality of learning. Second-language learners may be visual, kinetic or audile types (or combinations of these, though there's usually a dominant mode), and successful learning depends on a teacher recognizing a mode and adopting an appropriate methodology. I've also observed that some learners have an affinity for one language (or language group), and experience difficulty getting to grips with other language groups. Another thing I've noticed is that, until the age of nine or ten, youngsters may have a separate 'language' for each of the people close to them. This is often seen in marriages where the parents have different mother-tongues and a child attends a playgroup or nursery school in a third language. Acquiring a language by analysis and conscious learning strategies usually kicks in around eleven or twelve.

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

quintesse (654840) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264614)

Knowing 5 languages I can at least say that they definitely not get completely different and isolated areas, which would be as expected because probably the "machinery" that makes it possible at all is highly specific and sophisticated. I imagine that vocabulary and the grammar are stored in some way together but almost as if they get "tagged" with a specific language. But when you speak multiple languages you will have many moments when you mix up words or grammar rules and when learning them you will have doubts if a certain word or rule is part of language A or B (especially when they have similar roots).

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264790)

I would love to know if people that speak multiple languages get one language area for all languages or one area per language. If we get multiple areas, are they next to each other?

IANAE, but I would imagine a lot of these things depend on the brain, on the familiarity with the language, etc. but that there is "common machinery" to all languages, and that's what this is talking about.

I read an article several years ago that suggested that dyslexia may happen because dyslexics effectively lack (or perhaps just don't use) some of the normal language processing of the brain, and instead language gets processed by the puzzle-solving parts of the brain. I've also read that dyslexia is more common among speakers of different languages-- more English speakers suffer from dyslexia than Spanish speakers, supposedly. So it may be that different languages tend to use different "machinery" to different degrees.

Re:Multi-lingual? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37272994)

more English speakers suffer from dyslexia than Spanish speakers, supposedly.

With spic's and wetbacks how can you tell?

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

Life2Short (593815) | more than 2 years ago | (#37266712)

Excellent question, and one way to examine this would be to look at bilingual speakers who have suffered brain damage. If both languages relied on a single speech center, you would expect impairment as a result of the damage to be about equal for both languages. If, on the other hand, one language was clearly impaired while the other was not, these results would suggest two independent processing centers in the brain.

Unfortunately, the results are not as clear. Sometimes the first language acquired recovers first, and in other patients the second language recovers first. In still other patients both languages appear to recover at about equal rates. Some researchers have concluded that age of acquisition, fluency in the language, and other factors can influence the results.

You might enjoy: Marrero et al.'s (2002) "Bilingualism, brain injury, and recover: Implications for understanding the bilingual and for therapy." in Clinical Psychology Review, 22(3), 465-480.

Lorenzen & Murray (2008) Bilingual aphasia: A theoretical and clinical review." in American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 17, 299-317.

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 2 years ago | (#37269108)

Yes, I am intrigued as well about "sectors" almost like a hdd when it spins and places certain things in memory, they usually group together, although there is not set place on the hdd which is used only for this type of files, or etc....

You have to give it to god, when he built us, he definitely had the best computer in mind, we are great machine!

Re:Multi-lingual? (1)

Kittenman (971447) | more than 2 years ago | (#37269804)

I'm a native English speaker, learnt some French and a few words of other European languages - then picked up conversational Italian in my late 40s.

I've found that yes, there is "English" and "Other" for me. I sometimes lapse into Italian when trying to speak some French.

And I'm not bragging here - learning a language was difficult for me. It's hard work. You just do it. No quick trip, no easy way (well, not really). Just stick at it.

The latest shot fired in a long battle (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37264290)

For those who need a bit of background about what this is all about, and why this study is so important to the study of cognitive linguistics, we turn to a bit of history.

Linguistics has always been closely intertwined with psychology. So much so, in fact, that both modern cognitive linguistics and psychology approaches stem from reactions to an idea called behaviorism [wikipedia.org] . Everyone's 'favorite' linguist, Noam Chomsky [wikipedia.org] , was one of the first to try and go beyond behaviorism's explanations. Much has been said and written, and I won't go into that whole mess, but suffice to say after the dust settled Chomsky had decided that the human acquisition of language is very much an innate property of our species, something inherent in our brains, which he would come to refer to as the 'black box' that just acquires language like a sponge that dries up after a certain age in childhood. Once again, the whole debate around this topic is what cognitive linguistics is currently bent on figuring out--a question that has existed since man first wondered "why language?"

Anyway, before this becomes a true wall of text, I'll come down to what this study means to cognitive science: the two camps directly affected by this study are named 'nativists,' who believe that the human brain has structures specifically designed for the acquisition, processing, and production of language, and the other side are called 'structuralists,' who believe that the natural human proclivity for pattern recognition is naturally reinforced during language acquisition, bootstrapping its own language recognition abilities by simply recognizing patterns. Pinpointing specific, exclusive areas for language supports the nativist conclusion, dealing a blow to the structuralist theory. Evolution at work, perhaps?

Re:The latest shot fired in a long battle (1)

Marc Madness (2205586) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264950)

Pinpointing specific, exclusive areas for language supports the nativist conclusion, dealing a blow to the structuralist theory. Evolution at work, perhaps?

Does it really deal a blow the the structuralist theory? Or does it simply mean that language does not share the same neural machinery as the other tasks in the experiment? Perhaps it just so happens that those particular structures in the brain are useful for language, but not those other tasks. It doesn't mean they are necessarily intended specifically for processing language. From TFA: "Future studies will test the newly identified language areas with even more non-language tasks to see if their functional specificity holds up". I take this to mean that this study is not conclusive (not to denigrate their work in any way, that's science after all). It could just as well mean that our idea of how we do math, compose music etc. are completely wrong.

Part of me is rooting (figuratively) for the structuralists since knowing the foundations of human language would likely be more useful to computational linguists than a black box neural machinery for language. Then again, there's nothing saying we can't open that black box some day, and I haven't worked in computational linguistics in years so this may be an uneducated opinion.

Re:The latest shot fired in a long battle (0)

baldass_newbie (136609) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265034)

Mankind existed for hundred of thousands of years with no language. Written language did not start to appear until some 2500 years ago (or up to 6000 depending on what you feel qualifies.)
Julian Jaynes does a nice job correlating this to the rise of consciousness.
Stay away from that hack Chomsky.

Re:The latest shot fired in a long battle (2)

Mox-Dragon (87528) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265244)

Jaynes' ideas about consciousness and Chomsky's ideas about a language acquisition device aren't mutually exclusive. Jaynes' bicameral mind theory only requires that it is possible to have language without consciousness, something that might actually require the existence of a LAD. Jaynes uses the Iliad extensively when discussing his ideas about the bicameral mind, but language isn't central to his argument - rather, he's using the epic as a window into the minds of the greeks of that time period and arguing that they don't have consciousness as he defines it.

Re:The latest shot fired in a long battle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37269052)

I think you fell for a troll. Jaynes' work is in the same ballpark as theories of Atlantis.

Jaynes drew heavily on Bruno Snell for his work on the Iliad; Snell fell into the very broad stereotype of "19th century Germans who have an interesting idea and then take it way past the bounds of common sense." Snell noticed that figures on vase paintings from what he thought was the Homeric era did not depict people as entire entities, but as limbs. Limbs, mind you, that are joined together into bodies, but that part's inconvenient: he wanted the "archaic Greek" to consider himself existing not as a unity but as an assemblage of parts. Nineteenth century Germans were really good at ignoring contradictory evidence. Jaynes, following Snell, likes to think that Homer had no word for "body," when in fact he had at least two (there's soma and demas) and used them frequently in contexts where they have to mean the human body as a body. Then there's also chronology: it's hard to put Homer as far back in time as Snell wants, since he talks about things like stone temples and agorai, which archaeologists know don't exist until much later than many Homer-loving classicists wanted them to.

Re:The latest shot fired in a long battle (1)

Mox-Dragon (87528) | more than 2 years ago | (#37271564)

I don't know how accurate Jaynes is in dating the events in the Iliad and how much liberty he takes in interpreting Homeric art, but I have done a play-by-play meta-analysis of his analysis of the Iliad, and it seemed to me like what he said about the really strange style it was written vis-a-vis how the characters may have perceived the world was pretty insightful. As to his theories being about as off-the-wall as theories about Atlantis, they are pretty crazy, but that's part of what makes them so interesting.

Re:The latest shot fired in a long battle (1)

mcswell (1102107) | more than 2 years ago | (#37271762)

Not sure what written language has to do with this. There are illiterate people in the world, and pre-literate cultures. Those people are certainly conscious (if you don't believe that, talk to them--in their language). And unwritten languages have grammars every bit as complex as ours.

BTW, the Semitic alphabet (the one that our alphabet is descended from) is attested back to 1200 BC, and there were other writing systems long before that--cuneiform, for instance, is attested prior to 3000 BC.

Re:The latest shot fired in a long battle (1)

Mox-Dragon (87528) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265208)

I've always felt that the no-language-acquisition-device-hypothesis has been on really shaky footing. If you put kids w/o a first language together, they'll develop one - all on their own - without any linguistic input (there are a couple of pretty famous cases of this happening at schools for the deaf in developing nations) and it would be pretty hard to explain that without some existing linguistic structures in the brain.

SciAm just tweeted about something similar (2)

Sven-Erik (177541) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264310)

Quote: "Researchers in Israel, Canada and France used brain imaging to observe the neural activity of eight blind subjects as they read Braille. They found that although the blind subjects were using their sense of touch, their brains showed activity in the same so-called visual region that sighted people use when they read."

More at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-reading-region [scientificamerican.com]

Re:SciAm just tweeted about something similar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37264450)

This has been known for a long time, and used as part of the reason blind people (people who are congenitally blind and have never seen in their lives) are unable to see even when their visual cortex is stimulated via electrode or rTMS.

fMRI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37264324)

Yet another fMRI study finds that fluid movement in the brain changes based on activity. Doesn't show that area of the brain is doing any work.

Re:fMRI (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264448)

Yet another fMRI study finds that fluid movement in the brain changes based on activity. Doesn't show that area of the brain is doing any work.

Given that the "fluid movement" is typically the (substantial) blood supply required to satisfy the brain's exorbitant metabolic demands, it seems plausible to suspect that there is, in fact, a connection. More research is needed, probably involving lots of electrode probes and cute furry animals; but it is hardly an unreasonable hypothesis...

Re:fMRI (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265158)

It does now. This problem has been taken care of in the last few years.

Individual analysis is what is interesting (4, Informative)

dogmatixpsych (786818) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264326)

As someone who does neuroimaging research, what appears to be exciting about this approach to fMRI is that it is on an individual-by-individual basis, not at a group level (which is mentioned in the MITNews article). Almost all fMRI work is at a group level. While I perform some group analyses, most of my work is on an individual basis (but I do structural imaging, not functional). Group analyses can have severe limitations that are not always discussed by the researchers and are almost never understood by people outside the field of neuroimaging.

From the article: "It’s the same way for brains. 'Brains are different in their folding patterns, and where exactly the different functional areas fall relative to these patterns,' Fedorenko says. 'The general layout is similar, but there isn’t fine-grained matching.' So, she says, analyzing data by 'aligning brains in some common space is just never going to be quite right. Ideally, then, data would be analyzed for each subject individually; that is, patterns of activity in one brain would only ever be compared to patterns of activity from that same brain."

This process of aligning brains is called registration. Even if you are just working within one subject, there is registration involved (between the functional scan, in this case, and the structural - so you know what part of the brain is being activated). I spend about 25% of my imaging work dealing with checking registrations or trying to improve registrations. It's really a key step in neuroimaging work, one that not enough researchers consider seriously enough. So that's why this approach to fMRI is interesting - the researchers are trying to minimize the effects of poor registration, which can lead to completely invalid results.

Re:Individual analysis is what is interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37265582)

As an individual who has just started doing functional fMRI, the registration part as always bothered me because it seems like a substantial amount of data is lost. Nevertheless, the spatial smoothing and other preprocessing techniques (to MNI/Talairach) have become standard in this area.

Original Paper (1)

MMatessa (673870) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264336)

The summary links to a reply of a critique of a 2009 paper. The original paper (with brain imaging goodness) can be found here [mit.edu] .

Re:Original Paper (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265722)

While you linked to the paper that was critiqued and then responded to by this team, neither has anything to do with the study mentionned in the article.

But how does this help me? (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264416)

I tried to learn Japanese for years nothing stuck. Academic study of this subject now bores me and as soon as I open the book I could sleep for a week. I need some Paul McKenna NLP training to make me an obsessive compulsive I think.

Lazy, too right I am.

Re:But how does this help me? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265028)

Have you tried watching subtitled anime?

Re:But how does this help me? (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265620)

Yes. My Mrs is Japanese and just slates the translations as being awful. Not point asking her to help me learn Japanese either. It has always ended up in argument and pointing out errors in books and saying no one talks like that. Best she says out of it really. :)
Will to learn lost - Can't I have a chip I plug into my head? I've learnt a lot from porn, but it isn't helpful with the in-laws.

Re:But how does this help me? (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | more than 2 years ago | (#37266274)

I would suggest watching anime without the subtitles, listening to japanese music, and getting your wife to talk to you in japanese after which she can repeat in english.

The hard part of language is not ranslating one word to another, low powered computers can do that. What is important is becoming familiar with the flow of he language, learning to distinguish word boundaries from sylable boundaries and letting your brain figure out patterns in the language. Music lets you hear the language more pure in tone, slower with more distinct boundaries as well as with numerous repetition. Movies and tv are better than anime because they let you focus on the emotional connections of the words, focusing on translations here will mess you up by activating all your english processing machinery.

Having your wife speak to you in japanese first would probably be the most beneficial because she should be most likely the person you could easily understand without her using any words whatsoever. It would be important that you don't ask her to translate specific words, this is tedious for the person and would make them less likely to continue. Just japanese first, and then in english.

Your brain is a pattern finding machine, don't get in it's way and let it do it's job. Once you pick up on a pattern, such as declensions or particles, then you look it up. This way you've created a 'space' for the explanation to reside in and you're on your way to building a structure for language recognition based on actual recognition of the language.

patent pending ;)

Re:But how does this help me? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#37267414)

You make good points. I have only one thing to add:

Music lets you hear the language more pure in tone, slower with more distinct boundaries as well as with numerous repetition.

Just make sure you don't end up listening to the J-rock equivalent of Bob Dylan.

Re:But how does this help me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37265250)

nothing stuck.

Bullshit. It's buried somewhere.

What's your motivation for learning Japanese? If the motivation is not strong enough, or if it is just general interest in a new language, it will wear off quickly. Guilt ("I should be learning") is even less sustainable as a motivation.

Academic study of this subject now bores me and as soon as I open the book I could sleep

Why don't you do just that? Go easy on it. Sleep with the Jap audio lessons running. Watch some Japanese movies with subtitles. Rediscover the fun. And start chatting in Japanese! It shouldn't be hard to find a Japanese-English tandem partner online. Japan is full of bored people who are eager to learn.

Yet another brain study... (3, Interesting)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264482)

I just watched this @Google talk [youtube.com] yesterday, which finds wide variation in the way people think about various tasks. It doesn't contradict the findings of this MIT team, it just shows how variable and "plastic" these functions can be. One example that comes to mind is students from one country (France, IIRC) showed a lot of activation in the hearing areas of the brain when doing simple arithmetic tasks. They said this was because they learned arithmetic through rote repetition of tables, and thus used those aural regions when doing the tasks. (They also said they preferred doing math problems in a quiet environment to avoid distraction.)

IANA neuro-scientist, I just enjoy learning about this stuff. For any other armchair brain enthusiasts out there, you might also enjoy this lecture series on Human Behavioral Biology [youtube.com] by Robert Sapolsky at Stanford.

Re:Yet another brain study... (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about 2 years ago | (#37285338)

Interesting - I would wonder if fundamentally you'd expect a person's ability in a particular subject to be influenced by the method in which it is taught, if some areas of the brain truly are better at some things than others.

Perhaps the nature of the auditory areas of the brain is more or less suited to processing math (or more likely some kinds of math) than other regions, and you handicap yourself if you learn in one way vs another.

Plus, people have different learning styles, but could that be because when they started learning one method or another was chosen and so trying to learn in a new way wastes effort trying to build up capability in an area of a brain that doesn't have much, vs building on top of an established foundation. The RPG concept of min-maxing comes to mind - where being REALLY good at one thing and horrible at others is fundamentally different from being well-rounded. Or, perhaps some people start out with more innate ability in various regions of the brain, and so teaching those regions gets you more bang for the time invested.

Fascinating stuff...

What about other species? (1)

stiggle (649614) | more than 2 years ago | (#37264798)

Do parrots and dolphins and other species which use language show the same results?

Re:What about other species? (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265180)

They communicate, but they don't actually use language. Also, it is hard to point out clear analogues in primate brains, much less other mammals or birds.

Re:What about other species? (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about 2 years ago | (#37286838)

I dunno - that Nova episode suggested that dogs can certainly recognize vocabulary. I don't know what defines language, however. I would tend to think that there is more to it than word recognition, but my wife has aphasia and her vocabulary was the biggest thing that was impacted (word recognition along with everything else), so there is clearly a connection.

Re:What about other species? (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 2 years ago | (#37305510)

I'm not a linguist, but I do know from being in the cognitive sciences that language involves syntax, grammar, etc. Dogs can learn words to respond to commands (or get excited about a treat or a walk) but it isn't the same as having a conversation with them.

Get a Geek (3, Funny)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265002)

After having their subjects perform the initial language task, which they call a 'functional localizer,' they had each one do a subset of seven other experiments:

They could have just monitored a Geek trying to talk to a sexy girl and look for the part of the brain that shut down.

Where's the pictures? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37265068)

For an article about brain imaging, why are there no pictures? And without pictures why would I want to look at it? I need my pictures!

Kanwisher Lab (1)

gpig (244284) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265238)

I was lucky enough to hear Nancy Kanwisher give a talk summarising her lab's work, it's all pretty impressive. There are some ingenious experiments in there, yet they are still comprehensible to non-neuroscientists.

http://web.mit.edu/bcs/nklab/ [mit.edu]

MIT (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265258)

There is something odd about research out of MIT. They seem to really like the idea that there are parts of the brain that innately do one specific thing (well, at least Nancy Kanwisher does, and she is on this paper). It is pretty much ridiculous to argue that we have have a unique reading area of the brain since it is something the human race hasn't been doing that long. It wouldn't surprise me if the same brain regions are used in most people to read, but it is very odd to assume that one brain region would basically be useless or taken over by other regions for a large number of humans. Functional specificity makes sense for motor cortex and primary sensory receiving areas, but not something as high level as reading.

Re:MIT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37265746)

Rather than just toss off idle and ill-informedcritiques, without looking at the data and arguments, why don't you read the paper we published on the reading area, which you can download it from my web site?
The point of the paper is EXACTLY that apparently some brain specializations CANNOT be innate.
I append the abstract below.
Nancy Kanwisher
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 May 22;104(21):9087-92. Epub 2007 May 14.
Visual word processing and experiential origins of functional selectivity in human extrastriate cortex.
Baker CI, Liu J, Wald LL, Kwong KK, Benner T, Kanwisher N.

How do category-selective regions arise in human extrastriate cortex? Visually presented words provide an ideal test of the role of experience: Although individuals have extensive experience with visual words, our species has only been reading for a few thousand years, a period not thought to be long enough for natural selection to produce a genetically specified mechanism dedicated to visual word recognition per se. Using relatively high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (1.4 x 1.4 x 2-mm voxels), we identified a small region of extrastriate cortex in most participants that responds selectively to both visually presented words and consonant strings, compared with line drawings, digit strings, and Chinese characters. Critically, we show that this pattern of selectivity is dependent on experience with specific orthographies: The same region responds more strongly to Hebrew words in Hebrew readers than in nonreaders of Hebrew. These results indicate that extensive experience with a given visual category can produce strong selectivity for that category in discrete cortical regions.

Re:MIT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37267428)

Rather than just toss off idle and ill-informedcritiques[sic], without looking at the data and arguments, why don't you read the paper we published on the reading area, which you can download it from my web site?

You must be new here, Nancy ;^)

Re:MIT (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 2 years ago | (#37270418)

Fair enough, the summary presented on the MIT news website was quite misleading. Your abstract clearly indicates that this is not the case. However, having read some of your other work (FFA/FFG debate, a PNAS review from a year or so ago about functional specificity) I wasn't prone to question the summary as it fits with the view of brain functioning that I read about in said articles, and a view that I disagree with in a more general sense. My apologies if my previous criticism came across as ad hominem, I don't give slashdot posts the same kind of attention (tone, etc) that I would give an email or other communication because they are, as you would say, idle.

Re:MIT (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265958)

It might seem odd to you if you don't actually read the research. Doing so will answer the questions you have quite nicely.

hint: pay less attention to th news article and slashdot submissions and you might notice the researchers don't claim or prove halve the things that are claimed.

Re:MIT (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 2 years ago | (#37270284)

I've read plenty of other research (check out the fusiform gyrus/face area debates) and perhaps erroneously jumped to the conclusion that this was a bit of that history repeating.

Re:MIT (2)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 2 years ago | (#37266172)

I can speak a little from practical experience, even if I'm not an authority. My wife has aphasia as a result of a stroke in her left temporal lobe. Immediately after her stroke she struggled to remember her own name and language-based communication of virtually any kind was almost impossible (written, verbal). However, she had no trouble understanding pictures or drawing them, and heavy use of a smartphone with google image search was able to get us through the early problems.

Since then she has recovered quite a bit, though she struggles especially with proper names, and her vocabulary is nowhere near what it used to be.

She never had any problems with movement (but some with vision - the stroke carried over into the occipital lobe). She could go through the operational aspects of maintaining her checkbook though she often got the math wrong (I suspect largely because she couldn't recognize the numbers - not because she didn't know how to add). From the moment she was home to this day if there were any question about where she needed to be I'd just get in the car and have her give me turn-by-turn navigation instructions and we'd end up exactly where she wanted to be.

Before this whole episode I would have assumed that the brain just worked like some like of abstract neural network where data goes in and comes out and how it gets from one to the other is just the result of training and varies person by person. Since then I've learned quite a bit and varies lines of evidence exist that suggest that many areas of the brain are highly specialized. Sure, within those areas neural networks may be what cause learning and adaptation, but if you stick a blood clot in the left temporal lobe, or the right temporal lobe, you'll wipe out a person's ability to use language in two completely different ways.

And I'm talking about language here - which encompasses a lot (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and likely more). Reading might be relatively new, but verbal language is likely to be MUCH older. And, since people can do it an most animals can't, it stands to reason that there is some biological reason for this.

Oh, aphasia can impact lots of other things as well - like short-term memory. The thinking (as I've heard), is that our short term memory often is augmented by repeating things to ourselves, and aphasia apparently inhibits your brain's ability to even talk to itself inside your own head.

I think these kinds of findings might have profound impacts on the pursuit of AI. It isn't enough to have a big network and good training method. You might need to pre-wire the network in some way to get something that resembles a human intelligence and not just the neural net you might find in a jellyfish or something.

A few problems here (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | more than 2 years ago | (#37265892)

The study linked to is a response to a critique of a prior study, which really has nothing o do with the current study except self-justifying their belief that theeir method for functionally localizing regions of interest(fROI) is specific enough and repeatable enough on individual subjects to be of use.

The study the article talks about has not been accepted for publication yet. So this seems to be more of a puff piece to generate interest, really it bugs me when scientists do this. Without the study it's i/possible to tell whether there are any problems with their metfhodology.

One thing I've always though was that it has less to do with language per se and more to do with organization of expresion. What specific types of math or music tests were they using. Is it possible that areas that light up duri.g sentence construction also light up during composition of music and not just listening tasks? Would the same areas light up during algebra not when the person is solving a simple question but when a person is transforming an expression fromone form to another. What about during arrangement of pbrases in music in contrast to melody construction?

Re:A few problems here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37269296)

Actually, the paper was accepted to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and should be online at some point this week. The slashdot post added a link (to a previous paper) that wasn't present in the original MIT News story (http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/language-brain-0830.html). Check the original source before you throw around terms like "puff piece."

Re:A few problems here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37271048)

Actually, the paper was accepted to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and should be online sometime this week. The slashdot post added a link (to a previous paper) that was not present in the original MIT News article (http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/language-brain-0830.html). You should probably check the source before you throw around terms like "puff piece."

Additional Languages Intelligence? (1)

retroworks (652802) | more than 2 years ago | (#37266230)

Or so says Casey Schwartz of Brown University http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/08/07/why-it-s-smart-to-be-bilingual.html [thedailybeast.com] My three children were raised speaking their mother's tongue (French). And like the kids in the article, they seem smarter.

On the flip side, I'm also bilingual, but sort of like an Apple "Power PC", speaking both languages seems to make me worse at either.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_clone

I thank yo0 for youR time (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37267140)

insisted 7haT [goat.cx]

Yay for "Science" (1)

nog_lorp (896553) | more than 2 years ago | (#37269438)

used exclusively for language ... a subset of seven other experiments ... since these are the functions 'most commonly argued to share neural machinery with language.'

We eliminated several hypotheses that oppose ours, now we will see how far vulgarizations will go to claim that we proved our own hypothesis!

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