Native German and Arabic speakers were studied by scientists to understand their structural language connections. Credit: MPI CBS
The connections of the language network must be flexible to the processing demands and difficulties of the mother tongue.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have discovered evidence that the language we speak influences the connectivity in our brains that may underlie the way we think. They conducted a magnetic resonance tomography study on native German and Arabic speakers and discovered differences in the wiring of the language regions in the brain.
Xuehu Wei, a doctoral student at Alfred Anwander and Angela Friederici's research team, compared the brain scans of 94 native speakers of two very different languages and found that the language we grow up with influences the wiring in the brain. The high-resolution images allow us to determine the connectivity between the brain areas using a technique known as diffusion-weighted imaging.
MPI CBS: A map of enhanced wiring in the brain of German and Arabic native speakers.
According to Alfred Anwander, the last author of the recent study that was published in the journal NeuroImage, native German speakers demonstrated a greater connectivity between the left and right hemispheres than German native speakers. Their findings may be related to the more complex syntactic processing of German, due to the free word order and greater dependency distance of sentence elements.
"Brain connectivity is influenced by learning and the environment during childhood, which influences processing and cognitive reasoning in the adult brain," says Anwander. This is one of the first investigations to investigate cross-cultural processing differences in the brain.
As they learn German in six months, the research team will look at longitudinal structural changes in Arab-speaking adults' brains.
Xuehu Wei, Helyne Adamson, Matthias Schwendemann, Tomás Goucha, Angela D. Friederici, and Alfred Anwander, 19 February 2023, NeuroImage. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2023.119955