In a review article published in Science, Peter Hagoort, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Radboud University and director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, argues for a new model of language, involving the interaction of multiple brain networks. This model is much more complex than the classical neurobiological model of language, which was largely based on single-word processing.
The capacity for language is distinctly human. It allows us to communicate, learn things, create culture, and think better. Because of its complexity, scientists have long struggled to understand the neurobiology of language.
In the classical view, there are two major language areas in the left half of our brain. Broca’s area (in the frontal lobe) is responsible for the production of language (speaking and writing), while Wernicke’s area (in the temporal lobe) supports the comprehension of language (listening and reading). A large fibre tract (the arcuate fasciculus) connects these two ‘perisylvian’ areas (around the Sylvian fissure, the split which divides the two lobes).
“The classical view is largely wrong,” says Hagoort. Language is infinitely more complex than speaking or understanding single words, which is what the classical model was based on. While words are among the elementary ‘building blocks’ of language, we also need ‘operations’ to combine words into structured sentences, such as ‘the editor of the newspaper loved the article.’ To understand and interpret such an utterance, knowing the speech sounds (or letters) and meaning of the individual words is not enough. For instance, we also need information about the context (who is the speaker?), the intonation (is the tone cynical?), and knowledge of the world (what does an editor do?).
Read more: Medical Xpress