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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Do Bilingual Persons Have Distinct Language Areas in the Brain?

Released: Wed 08-Jul-2009, 09:00 ET

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A new study carried out at the University of Haifa sheds light on how first and second languages are represented in the brain of a bilingual person. A unique single case study that was tested by Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim of the Department of Learning Disabilities and published in the Behavioral and Brain Functions journal, showed that first and second languages are represented in different places in the brain.

Newswise — A new study at the University of Haifa sheds light on the mechanisms of language acquisition:

Do bilingual persons have distinct language areas in the brain?

A new study carried out at the University of Haifa sheds light on how first and second languages are represented in the brain of a bilingual person. A unique single case study that was tested by Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim of the Department of Learning Disabilities and published in the Behavioral and Brain Functions journal, showed that first and second languages are represented in different places in the brain.

The question of how different languages are represented in the human brain is still unclear and, moreover, it is not certain how languages of different and similar linguistic structures are represented. Many studies have found evidence that all the languages that we acquire in the course of our life are represented in one area of the brain. However, other studies have found evidence that a second language is dissociated from the representation of a mother tongue.

According to Dr. Ibrahim, there are various ways of clarifying this question, but the best way to examine the brain's representation of two languages is by assessing the effects of brain damage on a mother tongue and on the second language of the bilingual individual. "The examination of such cases carries much significance, since it is rare that we can find people who fluently speak two languages and who have sustained brain damage that has selectively affected one of the languages. Moreover, most of the evidence in this field is derived from clinical observations of brain damage in English- and Indo-European-speaking patients, and few studies have been carried out on individuals who speak other languages, especially Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Arabic, until the present study," he added.

The present case examined a 41-year-old bilingual patient whose mother tongue is Arabic and who had fluent command of Hebrew as a second language, at a level close to that of his mother tongue. The individual is a university graduate who passed entrance exams in Hebrew and used the language frequently in his professional life. He suffered damage to the brain that was expressed in a language disorder (aphasia) that remained after completing a course of rehabilitation. During rehabilitation, a higher level of improvement in use of the Arabic language was recorded, and less for the use of Hebrew. After rehabilitation, the patient's language skills were put through various standardized tests that examined a range of levels language skills in the two languages, alongside other cognitive tests. Most of the tests revealed that damage to the patient's Hebrew skills were significantly more severe than the damage to his Arabic skills.

According to Dr. Ibrahim, even if this selective impairment of the patient's linguistic capabilities does not constitute sufficient evidence to develop a structural model to represent languages in the brain, this case does constitute an important step in this direction, particularly considering that it deals with unique languages that have not yet been studied and which are phonetically, morphologically and syntactically similar.

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4 comments:

  1. About 7 years ago I can't speak because I had my stroke on the rugby field. I'm aphasiaic. Today, I'm better now. Its improving year by year. My writing and reading are back. Talking is a bit slow. If you have to get the right word in forming sentences, its slow but I'm getting there.
    Actually,I'm bi-lingual.My first language is Welsh and my second language. My parents spoke to me speaking Welsh when I was a baby, like on the 'aelwyd' ( its Welsh and it means ' hearth' ). I learned English when I was in school.
    Today I'm practicing to speak English,not Welsh. Just I could talk the odd words in Welsh here and there, like ' Sut mae' ( How are you).
    Regards
    John Griffiths

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  2. Hi, John,
    Recovering one of the two languages after a stroke by a bilingual person can happen. Many investigators are still trying to find out why this is happening. A very good research finding is that treating one language (the recovered language) can help the other unrecovered (untreated) language.
    Jose

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  3. Hi Jose:
    I'm living in Canada right now. Its Burlington, nearby Toronto on Lake Ontario.I'm retired and I used to work as a recruiter on my own. You could visit me on my website at wwww.hroncall.com.
    About 6 years ago after my stroke I felt frustrated because I had not been able to get the message across. If when people called me up,I usually have to hang up because they speak at such a rate that I just gave up. My rugby pals, neighbours, work mates, even my son shuned me off. At that time my frustration equals motivation to talk. About 4 years ago I started to attempt to communicate, it was so hard, My wife, Caryl helped me and all my aphasia friends in my local Aphasia Centre. I come 2 times per week.
    I'm working hard to sound 'normal'

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  4. John, your comment on 'normal' is of great interest to us and our clients. We have seen many people with aphasia make great gains including returning to work and talking very well and some at levels at least as well as before their stroke/TBI. What is important is that the treatment activities be aggressive and challenging and that the tools used in therapy be responsive to change, affordable, and effective.
    Bill Connors

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