Neurolinguistics

It is known as neurolinguistics to the discipline that studies the neural mechanisms in the human brain that control the understanding, production and acquisition of language, both spoken and written. In other words, it analyzes how and where our brain stores our knowledge of the language (or languages) that we speak, understand, read, and write. Also what happens in it as we acquire this knowledge and what happens as we use it in our day to day.

According to experts, neurolinguistics, as an interdisciplinary field, uses method and theories from fields such as linguistics, neuroscience, neurobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive science and computational science. Neurolinguists try to answer questions like:

  • What happens to our brain that makes human language possible?
  • Why is our communication system so elaborate and so different from that of other animals? Does language use the same type of neural computing as other cognitive systems, such as mathematics or music?
  • Where in our brain is a word we have learned? How does a word "come to mind" when we need it (and why doesn't it sometimes come to us?)?
  • If we know two languages, how do we change between them and how do we prevent them from interfering with each other?
  • If we learn two languages from birth, how is our brain different from that of someone who speaks only one language and why?
  • Is the left side of the brain really "the language side"?
  • If we lose the ability to speak or read due to a stroke or other injury, how well can we learn to speak again? ¿
  • What types of therapy are known to help, and what new types of speech therapy look promising?
  • Do people who read languages written from left to right (like Spanish) "have" the language in a different place in the brain than people who read languages written from right to left (like Hebrew and Arabic)?
  • How about reading a language that is written with characters other than the Latin alphabet, such as Mandarin?
  • If we are dyslexic, how is our brain different from that of a person who has no trouble reading?
  • How about we stutter?

Among many others.

Interaction with other fields

Neurolinguists study the physiological mechanisms by which the brain processes language-related information and evaluate linguistic and psycholinguistic theories using aphasiology, brain imaging, EEG (electroencephalography) and EMG (electromyography) techniques, and computer modeling. .

Aphasiology

The historical basis of neurolinguistics is aphasiology, the study of language alteration from specific forms of brain damage, such as strokes or neurodegenerative diseases (among which are the different types of dementia). However, in recent years this field has achieved valuable development and has been complemented by new technologies, expanding its field of action.

For example, modern brain imaging techniques help access new knowledge about anatomical structure based on language functions. The electrophysiological techniques EEG (electroencephalography) and EMG (electromyography), provide a resolution on a millisecond scale, despite the fact that the nature of the brain mechanism that causes electrical signals on the scalp has not yet been studied, making it difficult interpretation.

NEUROLINGUISTICS - EEG
Electroencephalography (EEG)

With brain images, the use of energy in the brain area can be studied while carrying out actions aimed at processing language. For their part, EEG and EMG can be used to test cognitive-computational theories related to the organization of language, without considering their neurobiological implementation.

Psycholinguistics

Neurolinguistics is closely related to psycholinguistics, a discipline that is related to both cognitive and linguistic psychology and is in charge of studying the way in which we acquire, understand, produce and emit linguistic information. Much of the work in neurolinguistics involves studying and evaluating the theories put forward by psycholinguists and theoretical linguists.

Theoretical linguists, in general, propose models to explain the structure of language and how the information in it is organized. For their part, psycholinguists propose models and algorithms to explain how language information is processed in the brain. Neurolinguists analyze brain activity to infer how biological structures carry out these algorithms for psycholinguistic processing.

Linguistics areas

Neurolinguistic research is carried out in all the main areas of linguistics:

Phonetics (study of speech sounds)

Neurolinguistics studies how the brain extracts speech sounds from an acoustic signal and how it separates speech sounds from background noise.

Phonology (study of how the sounds of a language are organized)

Neurolinguistics analyzes how the phonological system of a particular language is represented in the brain.

Morphology and lexicology (study of how words are structured and stored in the mental lexicon)

Neurolinguistics studies how the brain stores and accesses the words that a person knows.

Syntax and semantics (study of how multiple word sentences are constructed and how meaning is encoded in language)

Neurolinguistics is in charge of studying how the brain combines words into constituents and sentences. Also how structural and semantic information is used in understanding the latter.

In general, neurolinguistics investigates various topics, such as where language information is processed, how its processing develops over time, how brain structures are related to its acquisition and learning, and how neurophysiology can contribute to pathology. of speech and language.