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Neuroscience: Shared pattern of neural responses to 45 languages identified

Nature Neuroscience

July 19, 2022

A shared pattern of neural activity in the brain is elicited by 45 languages, according to a paper published in Nature Neuroscience.

Although there are close to 7,000 active languages worldwide, our understanding of how language is learned and processed in the brain is based on a much smaller subset of these.

To foster inclusivity in language research, Saima Malik-Moraleda, Evelina Fedorenko and colleagues examined whether there are shared brain responses across 45 languages in 12 language families. For each language the authors examined brain responses in one or two native speakers who listened to an excerpt of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ translated into their native tongue. All native languages activated large areas of the left frontal, temporal and parietal cortex in the brain. The responses of this language-related network were stronger and more correlated in the left hemisphere of the brain than the right hemisphere as subjects listened to different stories in their native languages. The network was more responsive during listening to native languages than when performing a spatial working memory or an arithmetic task, suggesting that this common network was selective for language processing.

The authors conclude that this finding is a first step in deeper examinations of the neural processing of different languages, which will require larger groups of native speakers for each language.

doi: 10.1038/s41593-022-01114-5

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