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Grammar on the Brain

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Grammar is the structure of languages that is learned early on as a child usually from parents then in a more former setting such as school. It differs from language to language, but the basics of grammar are the same. Grammar is a complex system of verbs, subjects, and objects. All languages have them, even the languages developed in isolation. The sign system of three deaf young adults in Nicaragua was studied Dr. Elissa Newport, a professor at the University of Rochester and Dr. Marie Coppola, a post-doc at the University of Chicago. They found the three deaf young adults had incorporated the intricate, formal ideas of subjects, objects and verbs into their languages, even though they had no contact with an established deaf community. (1) Though they never formally learned grammar, it seems they instinctively knew what grammar was and created a system to distinguish subjects from objects and differentiate the meaning of a sentence by different verb placements. According to German researchers from the Max Planck Institute, grammar seems instinctive because it is hardwired in our brains. It is what allows humans to produce and understand long sentences. Simple linguistic rules set up probable connection between words, such as the relation between a noun and an article. Complex linguistic rules establish “a hierarchy,” which serves to connect parts of a sentence. For example, “The bread [that the girl baked] was delicious.” At the Max Planck Institute fMRIs were used to find the active areas of the brain while processing languages. The frontal operculum was active when it was processing both rule types. Broca’s area was engaged for the complex rules alone. (2) The frontal operculum is located in the frontal lobe of the cortex. (3) Broca’s area is in the inferior frontal gyrus of the frontal lobe of the cortex. (4) Broca’s area is phylogenetically, a young part of the brain. Therefore non-human primates, such as the tamarian monkey can process simple linguistic rules but not the hierarchal ones. (3) The frontal operculum is connected to the anterior portion of the temporal lobe via special fiber connections (fasciculus uncinatus). By contrast, Broca‘s area is connected to posterior portions of the temporal lobe through the fasciculus longitudialis superior. (3) The temporal lobe is involved in speech, vision, and auditory processing. (5) Broca’s area is larger in the left hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with language dominance. (6) Although humans are the only primates that have a language, Homo sapiens are not the only species that have Broca’s area. Three of the closest relatives to Homo sapiens have Broca’s area: Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus, and Gorilla gorilla. Chimpanzees (P. troglodytes), bonobos (P. paniscus), and gorillas (G. gorilla) have the same asymmetry of the Broca’s area. (6) Compared to the level of sophistication found in human verbal communication controlled by Broca’s area, it is surprising to find that some of the great apes share this trait. In chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas Broca’s area seems to be responsible for hand grasping and manipulation. It has been noted that captive great apes prefer to use the right hand when gesturing. (6) The right hand is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain. (7) There is a greater right handed tendency when there is vocalization. (6) In evolutionary terms the existence of Broca’s area in the brain of some of the great apes can be looked upon as a pre-cursor to modern human speech. Broca’s area accompanied by the gestures and vocalizations of the great apes may have led to further development of Broca’s area and eventually to modern human speech. The origin of speech is unknown. It may have arisen with the development of Homo sapiens sapiens or earlier with Homo neanderthalensis. People do not think of the structure of language because it is innate; however it served as an intricate foundation for the advancement of human civilization. Though there is only 1% difference in the genetic make-up of humans and great apes, it is language that is one of the largest differences between the Homo sapiens and the other great apes. 1)Ramparts of Speech 2) Friederici, Angela D. Bahlmann, Jorg. Heim, Stefan. Schubotz, Ricarda I. Anwander, Aldred. “The Brain Differentiates human and non-human grammars: Function localization and structural connectivity.” PNAS. Vol. 103. No. 7. February 14, 2006. 3)Brain Researchers Discover the Evolutionary Traces of Grammar 4)Wikipedia- Broca’s Area 5)Wikipedia- Temporal Lobe 6) Cantalupo, Claudio. Hopkins, William D. “Asymmetric Broca’s Area in Great Apes.” Nature Vol. 414. November 2001. p505 7)One Brain... or Two?