How Our Mother Tongue Shapes Our Brain

Summary: Our native language may affect how our brains are wired and underpin the way we think, according to a new study. Using neuroimaging to analyze neural connectivity in native German and Arabic speakers, researchers found stronger connectivity between the right and left hemispheres in Arabic speakers, and stronger connectivity in the left hemisphere language area. among German speakers.

Source: Max Planck Institute

Scientists 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 underpin how we think.

Using magnetic resonance tomography, they took a deep dive into the brains of native German and Arabic speakers and found differences in the wiring of language regions in the brain.

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

The high-resolution images not only show the anatomy of the brain, but also allow the connectivity between brain areas to be derived using a technique called diffusion-weighted imaging. The data showed that the white matter axonal connections of the linguistic network adapt to the processing demands and difficulties of the native language.

This shows a brain scan from the study
Scientists analyzed the structural linguistic connectome of native German and Arabic speakers. Credit: MPI CBS

“Native Arabic speakers showed stronger connectivity between the left and right hemispheres than native German speakers,” explained Alfred Anwander, final author of the study recently published in the journal. NeuroImage. “This reinforcement was also found between semantic linguistic regions and may be related to the relatively complex semantic and phonological processing in Arabic.”

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

“Brain connectivity is modulated by childhood learning and environment, which influences cognitive processing and reasoning in the adult brain. Our study provides new insights into how the brain adapts to cognitive demands, i.e. the structural connectome of language is shaped by the native language,” Anwander said.

This is one of the first studies to document the differences between the brains of people who grew up with different first languages ​​and could give researchers a way to understand cross-cultural differences in brain processing. In an upcoming study, the research team will analyze longitudinal structural changes in the brains of Arabic-speaking adults during their six-month German learning.

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Press office
Source: Max Planck Institute
Contact: Press office – Max Plank Institute
Picture: Image is credited to MPI CBS

Original research: Free access.
“Mother Tongue Differences in the Structural Connectome of the Human Brain” by Xuehu Wei et al. NeuroImage


Native linguistic differences in the structural connectome of the human brain

Is the neuroanatomy of the structural connectome of language modulated by the experience of speaking a specific language throughout life?

The current study compared the white matter brain connections of the language and speech production network in a large cohort of 94 native speakers of two very different languages: a morphosyntaxically complex Indo-European language (German) and a root-based Semitic (Arabic). Using high-resolution diffusion-weighted MRI and network statistics based on tongue connectome tractography, we demonstrated that native German speakers exhibited stronger connectivity in an intra-hemispheric language network. frontal to parietal/dorsal temporal, known to be associated with complex syntactic processing. .

In comparison, native speakers of Arabic showed stronger connectivity in the connections between semantic linguistic regions, including the left temporoparietal network, and stronger inter-hemispheric connections via the posterior corpus callosum linking the regions. bilateral superior temporal and inferior parietal.

The current study suggests that the structural connectome of language develops and is modulated by environmental factors such as characteristic native language processing demands.

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