Tuesday, November 29, 2011

chomsky's language organ - also pathways


Two brain areas called Broca's region and Wernicke's region serve as the main computing hubs underlying language processing, with dense bundles of nerve fibers linking the two, much like fiber optic cables connecting computer servers. But while it was known that Broca's and Wernicke's region are connected by upper and a lower white matter pathways, most research had focused on the nerve cells clustered inside the two language-processing regions themselves.

Working with patients suffering from language impairments because of a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, Wilsons' team used brain imaging and language tests to disentangle the roles played by the two pathways. Their findings are published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Neuron.

"If you have damage to the lower pathway, you have damage to the lexicon and semantics," Wilson said. "You forget the name of things, you forget the meaning of words. But surprisingly, you're extremely good at constructing sentences."

"With damage to the upper pathway, the opposite is true; patients name things quite well, they know the words, they can understand them, they can remember them, but when it comes to figuring out the meaning of a complex sentence, they are going to fail."

Friday, November 25, 2011

the languages of modern Greece


Growing up in Greece in the 1970s, I had to learn not one but three Greek languages. First was the demotic parlance of everyday life. But at school, we were taught something different: “katharevousa” (“cleansed”), a language designed by 19th-century intellectuals to purify demotic from the cornucopia of borrowed Turkish, Slavic and Latin words. Finally, we had to study ancient Greek, the language of our classical ancestors, the heroes of Marathon and Thermopylae. Most of us managed to learn none of the three, ending up mixing them in one grammatically anarchic jargon that communicated the confusion of our age.

George Zarkadakis is the author of the novel The Island Survival Guide. (Washington Post)

In Canada, instead we (fail to) learn Parisian French and are exposed to a mishmash of British and American spelling. You could say we are a confused colony with 2 Imperial masters.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

emotions not part of emotional vocabulary


Does understanding emotions depend on the language we speak, or is our perception the same regardless of language and culture? According to a new study by researchers from the MPI for Psycholinguistics and the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, you don't need to have words for emotions to understand them.

"Our results show that understanding emotional signals is not based on the words you have in your language to describe emotions," Sauter says. "Instead, our findings support the view that emotions have evolved as a set of basic human mechanisms, with emotion categories like anger and disgust existing regardless of whether we have words for those feelings."