Tuning into language

Language and music appear to be processed in the same parts of our brains, according to the results of research undertaken at Georgetown University Medical Center.

The research suggests that one part of the brain in the temporal lobes helps us to memorise information such as words and meanings in language and melodies in music. Meanwhile part of the brain’s frontal lobes helps us to learn and use the rules of language and music, such as sentence syntax and musical harmony.

More details of the project.

Some theories of the origins of language, such as this one, argue that singing developed before language and that the brain structures that originally evolved to enable us to sing were later adapted for language. This research provides possible support for such theories.

2 thoughts on “Tuning into language

  1. Interesting to see how this can benefit my language learning. 🙂 I’ve always liked to listen to music sung in foreign languages. Maybe I was helping myself more than I realized.

  2. I believe that singing ones speech (if that makes sense) has long been known as an often-helpful strategy to overcome stammering, and also to aid recovery from aphasia resulting from strokes where the brain damage has affected the ‘speech centres’ of the brain. Evidently the brain functions and structures involved in speech and singing are closely linked and partially overlapping, but not wholly congruent.

    Doubtless continuing research will further elucidate these processes in modern humans. Obtaining evidence of their earlier biological and cultural evolution will however be much more difficult. Flutes haved been dated (controvertially) back to 43,000 BP but use of ‘percussion instruments’ (“You just bang the rocks together, guys.”), though probably much older, would be much harder to identify and date, while vocal music (OK, singing) can have left no non-anatomical traces. We really need to find some Ebu Gogo, Orang Pendek, Almas, Yowies and Sasquatch for comparison!

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