News / Science & Technology

Brain Study Sheds Light on Language Use

Denise Harris, 39, suffers from epilepsy, and doctors at the medical center of New York University are monitoring her seizures in the hope of performing an operation to minimize them
Denise Harris, 39, suffers from epilepsy, and doctors at the medical center of New York University are monitoring her seizures in the hope of performing an operation to minimize them

Multimedia

Mike O'Sullivan

Researchers say a study on the brain is shedding light on how humans process language.  The research, conducted in San Diego, Boston and New York, is helping scientists understand an important part of the brain known as Broca's area.

Denise Harris, 39, is helping with the study.  She suffers from epilepsy, and doctors at the medical center of New York University are monitoring her seizures in the hope of performing an operation to minimize them.

"I've been on many medications throughout my life and after a while, they don't work," she noted.  "I still get seizures.  So now, when they remove the part that the seizure is triggered from, it's supposed to stop."

While Harris is in hospital, she is helping scientists understand how the brain comprehends and uses language.

The results of the work, based on brain studies of Denise and other patients, were published in the journal Science.  

Using the process called Intra-cranial Electrophysiology, clinical tests in Boston and New York found that one small part of the brain, known as Broca's area, computes three different language functions, all within a quarter of a second.   The first deals with recognizing a word, the second with understanding the word's context in a sentence, and the third lets us articulate the word through speech.

One of the study's author, Eric Halgren of the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, says this part of the brain is central to language.

"What we were able to find was that within a centimeter, around less than an inch, certainly, and probably half an inch, there were different regions - perhaps they overlap some - but they were doing, at different times, different processes, all within this small area," said Halgren.

Another study author, Ned Sahin, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University and the UC San Diego School of Medicine, says scientists have suspected for some time that the traditional understanding of the brain needs revision.

"Nearly every introductory text book, as well as people practicing in the field in speech pathology, for instance, teaches and believe that there is a separation of tasks and a division of labor between two very different parts of the brain, Broca's area [at the front of the brain] and Wernicke's area [further back in the brain], where Broca's area is responsible for producing, for speaking, and Wernicke's for comprehending," explained Sahin.

This study shows that Broca's area does more than scientists had realized.  Sahin says researchers increasingly realize that individual parts of the brain have multiple functions.

"…  because here's an example of one relatively small part of the brain that's doing three very different things at three different times, but all within the space of a quarter of a second," he added.

Eric Halgren says, despite our growing knowledge, much about the brain remains unknown.

"How does this hunk of flesh, which is not much different from a muscle - it's just a bowl of porridge - how does it produce the mind?  It's a total mystery," noted Halgren.

He says brain studies are shedding light on the pieces of the puzzle, and may one day solve the mystery. 

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More