How our mother tongue shapes our brain wiring

Resume: Our native language may influence the way our brains are wired and underlie the way we think, a new study reports. Using neuroimaging to analyze neural connectivity in native speakers of German and Arabic, researchers found stronger connectivity between the right and left hemispheres of the brain in Arabic speakers, and stronger connectivity in the left hemisphere language area in 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 brains that may underlie the way we think.

Using magnetic resonance tomography, they looked deep into the brains of German and Arabic native speakers and discovered differences in the wiring of the language areas in the brain.

Xuehu Wei, 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 the brain regions to be inferred using a technique called diffusion-weighted imaging. The data showed that the axonal white matter connections of the language network adapt to the processing demands and difficulties of the native language.

This shows a brain scan from the study
The scientists analyzed the structural language connection of German and Arabic native speakers. Credit: MPI CBS

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

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

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

This is one of the first studies to document differences between the brains of people who grew up with different native languages ​​and could provide researchers with a way to understand cross-cultural processing differences in the brain. In a subsequent study, the research team will analyze longitudinal structural changes in the brains of Arabic-speaking adults as they learn German over six months.

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Press Office
Source: Max Planck Institute
Contact: Press Service – Max Plank Institute
Image: The image is credited to MPI CBS

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


Native language differences in the structural connectome of the human brain

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

The present study compared brain 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 language (Arabic). . Using high-resolution diffusion-weighted MRI and tractography-based network statistics of the language connectome, we showed that native German speakers showed stronger connectivity in an intra-hemispheric frontal to parietal/temporal dorsal language network, known to be associated with complex syntax processing . .

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

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

Leave a Comment