Author: Mohamed Salem
My name is Mohamed and I am a sophomore in high school in New Oxford PA, USA. I'm interested in neuroscience as I want to become a neurosurgeon. In my free time I play basketball and piano.
A student’s struggle with the difficulty of learning grammar stems sometimes from the congruence and sometimes from the dissonance between the words he reads and the things they indicate. Later, on the journey of life, he realizes that developing his language is a matter beyond morphology and grammar, so he sometimes resorts to rhetoric and other expressive forms, to compensate for the shortcomings of words as semantics in expressing meanings. But the digital age demands more than rhetoric and traditional forms of expression.
Under the pressures arising from the need for clear and useful measurements of deep machine learning and the development of robotics, “cognitive sciences” have come to the fore, which brings together several sciences, including neuroscience, computational linguistics, artificial intelligence, psychology, and philosophy. This sheds light on questions that philosophers have long asked about important aspects of the thought and speech process, such as: What happens in our brain when we speak and think? Are the rules universal to humans? What are the processes that lead us to use grammar without knowing it? The general understanding of the processes that take place within the human brain, is no longer confined to the interest of philosophers and scholars with competence, but has become an essential part of the general culture and jobs in this era.
The Study of the Human Brain
The first serious scientific study of language and the brain appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, when the French anatomist and anthropologist Paul Broca identified the center of language in the left hemisphere of the brain. And that was after treating a patient who had lost the ability to speak, but he understood everything at the same time. When that patient died, it was found during autopsy that the left inferior frontal cortex was deformed. Subsequently, that area was named after that doctor: “Broca’s area.” In the following decade, the German neurologist Karl Wernicke saw a patient with a brain injury who could speak, but his sentences were incomprehensible, and his suffering was a form of “aphasia” associated with a lesion in an area near Broca’s area, so it was named after him “Wernicke’s area.” This area, along with Broca’s area, is one of the most important brain areas related to language and speech. Afterwards, “behavioral theory” related to the mechanisms of the brain’s work in relation to language and speech until the middle of the twentieth century. This theory was based on the fact that language acquisition is a matter of imitation and the formation of habits. In 1956, the science of “cognitive linguistics” appeared, and it was pioneered by Noam Chomsky, a linguist at Umm University. In 1957, Chomsky announced his theory that grammar is innate and has universal features. This theory sparked intense debates between him and the psychologist Jean Piaget. One of Chomsky’s team members, Jerry Foder, distinguished himself by counting mental operations as arithmetic symbolic mechanisms. In the year 1985 AD, parallel theories appeared, such as “interconnectivity”, which considers that brain cells work in an interconnected manner. Symbolism and associativity have shaped the groundwork of modern cognitive science. The combination of different sciences lead to important developments in neuroscience, benefiting greatly from illumination from other fields, especially from computational linguistics. This has led to a greater understanding of how the brain works in relation to language and thinking.
Brain Interactions When Thinking
The brain map was discovered in the early twentieth century. Studies have shown that the brain is divided into sections, each of which specialize in something. But to what degree are these regions responsible for their interactions? Is there a device inside the brain to manage this interaction, or is each part responsible for what it does without coordinating with the other parts? Prior to the year 2000 AD, Noam Chomsky’s theories that grammar is innate and that there are universally common factors prevailed. Even other different paradigms of his also focused on the biological factor. But with the great progress that has been made since the beginning of the current millennium in many scientific fields, there has become a consensus that thinking is a biological, psychological, and social process. When reading a certain text, we use a lot of knowledge in order to understand it. Meaning is extracted through semantic and grammatical relations, and their social and psychological implications, which lead to a coherent understanding of the text, contrary to what Chomsky says. For example, when we say: “The girl ate the orange because she is useful,” and “The girl ate the orange because she is hungry,” we understand that the word “because” in the first sentence refers to the orange, and in the second sentence it returns to the girl, because the information stored in our memory determines the meaning present in the text, and we use background knowledge in order to understand it, far from grammar and semantics in many cases. The nature of this knowledge is called pragmatism because we used our social memory to determine the meaning. It is true, as the theory of generative grammar suggests, that a child is born with the defining characteristics of the human race. It is the product of family inheritance, according to his group’s values, his cognitive, social and emotional experiences are involved in the development of his brain, and brain development is controlled by genetic evolution, but also by the evolution of the psychological, social and cultural environment. Studies have shown that the brain has a genetically “programmed” structural and functional organization, but it is subject to modification. Recent research has shown that individual experiences change the size, structure and function of neurons, and leave an impact on them. For example, when a child listens to sounds, the superior temporal region of the brain reacts. Silent reading activates visual recognition of words in the back of the brain. When asked about the meanings, we notice the activation of the left inner frontal lobe of the brain. The magnetic resonance imaging showed that Broca’s area activates in children at the age of 3 months, by listening to sentences in their mother tongue. At the age of 14 months, children are surprised when the picture does not match the word (showing them a picture of a”bird” and saying the word “sun”). By doing so, the child gradually builds a vocabulary called the mental lexicon, which develops into a network of organized words. This organization in a “semantic network” (representing the semantic relationship between concepts and operating in an associative manner) is related to the formation of memory that operates in an associative manner (by connecting different things with the aim of establishing a relationship between them), and the words in turn are linked to what we call the semantic field (a group of related words, for example, the word “fire”constitutes a semantic field that includes words such as “fire” and “ambulance”). Thanks to the activation of the semantic network, it facilitates the process of perceiving a word and reaching the meaning of another word related to it linguistically (for example, when an individual understands the meaning of the word “nature”, the semantic network will be activated for them, and other words that constitute the elements of nature will be drawn in). When we show the child a word that is meaningful to him, the semantic network and synaptic connections are activated. Her presentation activates the left area of the brain involved in decoding the visual form of words. Magnetic imaging shows that when a child hears a word and does not understand it, his brain is activated to process it, which indicates the existence of a cognitive subconscious. At the age of two, the child is sensitive to the categorical link between words, such as listing “pigeons” and “birds” within the category of birds. The areas of the brain that are activated to access the meaning of traditional metaphors (which can be understood by most native speakers such as “chair leg” and “fell in love”) differ from those that are activated to access the meaning of metaphors in poetry. In traditional metaphor, the left cerebral hemisphere is activated, and when metaphorically writing poetry, the right cerebral hemisphere is activated, because it requires the activation of several brain regions of memory and imagination, and urges thought to transcend its near meaning to its distant meaning, such as “we bit the age”. At the age of three, the child is sensitive to incorrect sentences from a linguistic point of view, such as when we say to him: “The color of the car is salty.”
Where are the bases located in the brain?
During language processing, the brain integrates all information of a lexical, grammatical, semantic, and pragmatic nature to construct meaning. Linguists believe that there is a neural code for the syntactic trees inside the brain. For example, the sentence “the boy went to school” is composed of the syntactic “twig” in the verb “the boy went” and the syntactic branch in the noun “to school.” As for grammar and the presence of grammar in specific areas of the brain, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that Broca’s area is significantly activated when constructing sentences. Wernicke’s area acquires the comprehension of words, and transmits them to Broca’s area by a dense bundle of fibres, so that the pronunciation of sentences is produced. Recent research has revealed the presence of a third primary area of language called Geschwind’s area, which is the inferior parietal lobe (located in the central part of the brain). It was found that this lobe is associated with large bundles of nerve fibers with each of the Broca and Wernicke regions. Thus, information between them can pass through Geschwind’s Territory, a newly discovered area of the brain related to language. In fact, the lower parietal lobe of the left cerebral hemisphere occupies a major position in the brain, at the intersection of the auditory, visual and somatosensory cortex with which it is closely related. Neurons in this region have the peculiarity of being “multimodal”, that is, they are able to simultaneously process stimuli of different types (auditory, visual, and sensory). These properties make the inferior parietal lobule an ideal candidate for understanding the multiple properties of a word, and help the brain to classify objects. This is a prerequisite for the formation of concepts and thinking. According to the Wernicke-Geschwind model, developed by the American neuro behaviorist Norman Geschwind in the second half of the twentieth century, during verbal exchange, words are perceived at the level of the auditory cortex, and then transmitted to Wernicke’s Area, but the written word differs from the heard word. Therefore, the primary visual cortex perceives the read word first as a typographical pattern, and then passes to the angular gyrus underlying the Wernicke’s area, the language center responsible for converting visual stimuli into the form of auditory stimuli and back) via the left occipital temporal cortex, which contains the visual center. The neurons of the angular gyrus are uniquely positioned to create connections between the different properties of the blocks. Thus, the angular gyrus will be required directly when reading an object’s name. It is also most active when we are trying to find the meaning of a word or when we have memorized it for a short time. The information is recognized as a word associated with its corresponding auditory form. Added to this message is a grammatical structure and a drafting model. This information is then transmitted to the area near Broca’s motor cortex, where neurons send their signals to the muscles of the mouth and larynx that produce speech. Recent research shows that there may be at least two nervous systems involved in reading. The brain reads first by translating written letters into their corresponding phonemic elements in oral language, but it also establishes a link between the whole picture of the written word and its meaning, a reminder that can somehow bypass matching the phonetic signature of the word. The right hemisphere, even when it is not the dominant half of language, is involved in understanding simple words, short sentences, figurative language, and weights. When the left hemisphere is affected, the right hemisphere can play a more important role in language. This phenomenon indicates that the right hemisphere has what it takes to deal with key aspects of language. Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas are connected by a large bundle of nerve fibers called the arcuate ring. This loop is located in the left hemisphere of about 90% of right-handed people and 70% of left-handed people. Thus, language is one of the functions that is processed asymmetrically in the brain. Surprisingly, it is also found in the same place in deaf people who speak sign language. Thus, this episode will not be specific to oral or spoken language, but is more broadly related to the individual’s main mode of language.
Acquisition of human language depends on our ability to abstract and use grammatical rules. During a brain-imaging experiment, activity in Broca’s area showed when a person was learning a grammatical rule in a language other than his native language. Thus, Broca’s area becomes a good candidate as a neural substrate for the “general grammar” common to languages. After these important clarifications, there remains much that science still has to clarify in order to facilitate the learning and understanding of grammar. Instead of struggling, perhaps learning grammar, morphology, and grammar in the near future will be enjoyable for individuals with different abilities!
Featured Psychology·December 7, 2015, also, S., & Featured Neurology Neuroscience·November 10, 2021·3 min read. (2015, December 7). Chomsky was right, we possess an internal grammar. Neuroscience News. Retrieved January 2, 2022, from https://neurosciencenews.com/internal-grammar-chomsky-3226/
History of neuroscience: Paul Broca. @neurochallenged. (n.d.). Retrieved January 2, 2022, from https://neuroscientificallychallenged.com/posts/history-of-neuroscience-paul-broca