Study shows how our native language shapes brain wiring - Creative Word

A recent scientific paper suggests that the native language we speak shapes the connectivity in our brains meaning that it may even influence the way we think or how we process information.

The study, led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, assessed the brains of Arabic and German speakers with the help of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and made exciting discoveries linking the native language of each subject and differences in the wiring of the language regions in their brains.

Xuehu Wei, a doctoral 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.

The study, consisting of two groups of native speakers of German and Arabic, were scanned in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine with the high-resolution images showing the anatomy of the brain.

However, using a technique known as “diffusion-weighted imaging” the scientists were also able to look deeper into the brain and derive the connectivity between the brain areas.

The data showed that the axonal white matter connections of the language network adapt to the processing demands and difficulties of the mother tongue.

According to the last author of the study, Alfred Anwander, “Arabic native speakers showed a stronger connectivity between the left and right hemispheres than German native speakers.”

He believes that “This strengthening was also found between semantic language regions and may be related to the relatively complex semantic and phonological processing in Arabic.”

The researchers also discovered that the native German speaking subjects showed stronger connectivity in the left hemisphere language network, suggesting that these findings may be related to the complex syntactic processing of the German language, which is due to the free word order and greater dependency distance of sentence elements.

Anwander summarizes that “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 how the brain adapts to cognitive demands, that is, the structural language connectome is shaped by the mother tongue”.

This study is believed to be the first of its kind to document differences between the brains of those who grew up speaking different languages and it is hoped the study will give researchers a way to understand cross-cultural processing in the brain.

As an additional development, a further study is planned which will analyse longitudinal structural changes in the brains of native Arabic speaking adults as they learn German over the course of six months.