Biology 202
1998 First Web Reports
On Serendip

The Neural Score for Language and Related Action

Ruth Czarnecki

In the web page, GESTURAL EQUIVALENCE (EQUIVALENTS) OF LANGUAGE ( , the development of language with respect to movements of the arms and hands are discussed. It is proposed that there are certain neural patterns, a score, to these movements that correspond to certain sounds. One can get so general as to say that there is one pattern of movement for each phoneme in language. Phonemes are the basic sounds of which a spoken language is constructed. The fact that there are hand movements gestures if you will, that follow the same patterns as vocal utterances have many effects. Neural scores become more evident, the same initial brain patterns control speaking and gesturing. This is known as The Motor Theory of Language Origin and Function. It also has an interesting influence on the expression of scores themselves. It also explains much infant behavior, such as mimicking.

The Motor Theory of Language Origin and Function holds that patterns for specific motor activity are the same patterns as those for speech. As for the neurobiological interpretation for the evolution of language and speech, this says a lot. As the neural patterns for certain arm movements became more and more specific; the effects of these patterns, when applied to the vocal apparatus became more and more specific. This specificity lead to the development of the phonemes of all human language. There are also similarities between the motion produced and the meaning of the word (see attached picture). What is amazing about this is the fact that many different languages have words with the same meaning that have similar movements, even if the words are not similar. Also, the fact that common gestures, the composite of a few of the simple gesture movements, change between languages enforces the idea that the movements vary with the phoneme, not the word.

An interesting effect that this theory has when parts are applied to all neural activity is that certain neural patterns, scores can be applied to many different parts and the same results can be seen. For instance, in this web page, it is proposed that the human body can produce the same signature using hands, the feet, nose, or even forehead. Although it is difficult for a human to master this all at one time, if it is needed, the same neural pattern for the movement of the right hand with a writing implement can be applied to one of many other places on the body. Although in relation to language, the same results aren't seen, however, by watching someone gestures, there are certain ideas conveyed which usually reflect the conversation being made.

This theory of language development tells much about a baby's acquirement of language skills. Babies are extraordinarily mimicky and can do so from as young as 0.7 hours from birth (see . This ability to mimic initially facial expression and finally gesturing is very influential to learning of language and speech skills according to this theory. The better hand eye coordination, the better control of arm and face movement, the easier it is to apply these patterns of activity to the vocal chords and throat and produce sounds. Once these sounds are mastered, they can be combined and set to different orders where they form words, and eventually sentences. The more articulate a baby is with his hands, the easier language will come.

The idea of a neural score being applied to different parts of the body and then controlling connected action is very interesting. Perhaps, this can explain why other primates, and all other species, are not able to make the same complex phonemes as humans. Along with the evolution of the human body pattern, came evolution of language capacity due to the new motor patterns produced by the nervous system. The Motor Theory of Language Origin and Function has much merit and is an interesting phenomenon to study.

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This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

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