If you speak Mandarin, your brain is different.
We speak so effortlessly that most of us never think about it. But psychologists and neuroscientists are captivated by the human capacity to communicate with language. By the time a child can tie his or her shoes, enough words and rules have been mastered to allow the expression of an unlimited number of utterances. The uniqueness of this behaviour to the human species indicates its centrality to human psychology.
That this behaviour comes naturally and seemingly effortlessly in the first few years of life merely fascinates us further. Untangling the brain’s mechanisms for language has been a pillar of neuroscience since its inception. New research published in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences about the different connections going on in the brains of Mandarin and English speakers, demonstrates just how flexible our ability to learn language really is.
Real-time brain networking
Before functional brain imaging was possible, two areas on the left side of the brain, called Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, had already revealed their importance for language. Victims o stroke or traumatic brain injury to either of these crucial areas on the left side of the brain exhibited profound disabilities for producing and understanding language. Modern theories on connectionism – the idea that knowledge is distributed across different parts of the brain and not tucked into dedicated modules like Broca’s area – have compelled researchers to take a closer look.