Brain activation – a function of native language?

The AP (via the LA Times) reports on new research indicating that different languages create different patterns of brain activation, regardless of one’s fluency in a given language.

Before we utter a single word, experts can determine our mother tongue and our level of proficiency in other languages by analyzing brain activity as we read, scientists working with Italy’s National Research Council say.

For more than a year, a team of scientists experimented on 15 interpreters, revealing what they say were surprising differences in brain activity when the subjects were shown words in their native language and in other languages they spoke.

The findings show how differently the brain absorbs and recalls languages learned in early childhood and those learned later in life, said Alice Mado Proverbio, a professor of cognitive electrophysiology at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Milan.

Proverbio, who led the study, said such research could help doctors communicate with patients suffering from amnesia or diseases that impair speech. It also could be of use someday in questioning refugee applicants or terrorism suspects to determine their nationality, she said.


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