How our mother tongue shapes our brain wiring

Summary: Our native language can affect the way our brains are wired and the background of our thinking, a new study reports. Using neuroimaging to analyze the neural connections between native German and native Arabic speakers, the researchers found a stronger connection between the right and left hemispheres in Arabic speakers and a stronger connection in the left hemisphere language area in German speakers.

Source: Max Planck Institute

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have found evidence that the language we speak shapes the connectivity in our brain that may underlie our thinking.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, they probed deep into the brains of German and Arabic native speakers and found differences in the wiring of language areas of the brain.

Xuehu Wei, a PhD student in the research group of Alfred Anwander and Angela Friederic, compared the brain scans of 94 native speakers of two very different languages ​​and showed that the language we grow up with modulates the brain’s wiring. Two groups of German and Arabic native speakers were scanned with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

The high-resolution images not only show the anatomy of the brain, but also allow the inference of connectivity between brain regions using diffusion-weighted imaging. The data showed that the axonal white matter connections of the language network adapt to the processing needs and difficulties of the native language.

The researchers analyzed the structural language connections of German and Arabic native speakers. Credit: MPI CBS

“Native speakers of Arabic showed a stronger connection between the left and right hemispheres than native speakers of German,” explained Alfred Anwander, last author of the study recently published in the journal. NeuroImage. “This gain was also observed across semantic language domains and may be related to the relatively complex semantic and phonological processing of Arabic.”

As the researchers found, native German speakers had a stronger connection in the language network of the left hemisphere. They argue that their findings may be related to the complex syntactic processing of German due to the free word order and greater dependency distance of sentence elements.

“The brain’s connections are modulated by childhood learning and environment, which affects adult brain processing and cognitive reasoning. Our research provides new insights into how the brain adapts to cognitive demands, i.e. the structural language connection is shaped by the mother tongue,” said Anwander.

This is one of the first studies to document differences between the brains of people who grew up with different native languages, and may give researchers a way to understand differences in brain processing between cultures. In the next study, the research team analyzed longitudinal structural changes in the brains of Arabic-speaking adults as they learned German over a six-month period.

From this neuroscience research news

Factor: Press office
Source: Max Planck Institute
Contact: Press Office – Max Plank Institute
Picture: Photo courtesy of MPI CBS

Original research: Open access.
Xuehu Wei et al.: “Native language differences in structural connectivity of the human brain”. NeuroImage


Mother tongue differences in the structural context of the human brain

Is the neuroanatomy of the structural connectome of language modulated by lifelong experience of speaking a particular language?

The current study compared the cerebral white matter connections of the language and speech production network in a large cohort of 94 native speakers of two very different languages: an Indo-European morphosyntactically complex language (German) and a Semitic root-based language (Arabic). . Using high-resolution diffusion-weighted MRI and tractography-based network statistics of the language connectome, we showed that German native speakers showed stronger connectivity with an intrahemispheric frontal-parietal/dorsal temporal language network known to be involved in complex syntax processing. .

In comparison, native Arabic speakers showed stronger connectivity in semantic language regions, including the left temporo-parietal network, and stronger interhemispheric connectivity through the posterior corpus callosum, which connects bilateral superior temporal and inferior parietal regions.

Current research suggests that the structural language connectome develops and is modulated by environmental factors, such as the typical processing demands of the native language.

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