Abstract structure need not be based on language

Grammar-impaired patients with problems in parsing sentences can parse sums. This weighs against the argument that language underpins our capacity for abstract thought: these individuals have problems with telling “dog bites man” from “man bites dog” but no similar problems with 112-45 vs 45-112.

Aphasia and other language problems stemming from brain damage can indeed lead to calculation problems, but this study suggests that they are not necessarily intertwined. As the authors put it, the performance of their subjects is “incompatible with a claim that mathematical expressions are translated into a language format to gain access to syntactic mechanisms specialized for language.”

Continue reading “Abstract structure need not be based on language”

Finding Geschwind’s territory

A new connection has been found between two of most important language areas in the brain. Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area have been linked to speech production and language comprehension respectively. They were some of the first discoveries that linked particular brain areas to specific mental abilities and are known to be joined by a bundle of neural fibres called the arcuate fasciculus.

Reseachers from London have now discovered that another parallel pathway connects the two areas, although it does not develop until about 5-7 years of age, suggesting that even quite major connections in the brain do not develop until well into childhood.

The pathway runs through an area they have named Geschwind’s territory after Norman Geshwind, the famous American neurologist who theorised that such a connection might exist.

Understanding the connectivity of the language areas is the brain is essential to the understanding and treatment of language problems after brain damage. These sorts of impairments are a common result of serious stroke or traumatic brain injury.

Link to story on newscientist.com.
Link to abstract from the Annals of Neurology.