An overview of language-related content on Genes to Cognition Online.
Read an overview of relevant processes in the Dana review article Speech and Language Processes. Language is an internal process is externalized by means of communication. It is important to distinguish between language and communication, which all organisms engage in. Language is a much more formal system and is a form of internal thought that involves ways of manipulating symbols. FOXP2 is the gene most intimately linked with language and has been associated with a number of disorders involving language impairment, including autism. From a cellular perspective, the mirror neuron system is one way by which we may acquire language. A number of brain regions are involved in language processing and comprehension including Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Language provides and relies upon a shared system of mental representations and exists in a social environment that is dynamic and adaptive.
A number of candidate genes have been associated with language. Use the chromosome Map of Disorders and Processes to explore these genes, the most well-known of which is FOXP2. Mutations of the FOXP2 gene can cause severe communication disorders that involve speech deficits. FOXP2 has been associated with autism, a chief symptom of which is significant language impairment. New techniques including whole genome scanning are providing increasingly powerful measures for understanding language from the molecular perspective.
In Biochemicals - Excitation and Inhibition, Doctor Josh Dubnau explains that neurons may be inhibitory or excitatory (this principle is not specific only to language). Glutamate is the most common excitatory neurotransmitter in humans. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin can be either excitatory or inhibitory, depending on how they are activated. Virtual Neuron allows users to explore common neurotransmitters in the brain.
The mirror neuron system, which is also associated with autism, provides an interesting perspective on language acquisition. Mirror neurons have been called “empathy neurons” because they fire when we witness others perform actions and experience emotions. In infants, babbling may actually be a way of training the mirror neuron system. Professor Christian Keysers discusses Mirror Neurons and Language Acquisition in a series of video clips linking the mirror system and language.
Broca's area and Wernicke’s area are two functionally defined structures associated with language. In 97% of humans, Broca’s area is lateralized to the left frontal lobe. It is involved mainly in the production of spoken and written language and also in language processing and comprehension. Wernicke's area is involved in language comprehension and is also lateralized to the left side.
In What is Language? Professor Marc Hauser discusses the relationship between language and cognition. He explains that language is a form of internal thought that involves ways of manipulating symbols – abstract pieces such as nouns, verbs and adjectives. It is important to differentiate language from communication, which is common to all amimals. Language is a much more formal system than simple communication. Language is formed internally and transmitted externally through communication. Three relevant components of language include syntax/grammar, semantics/thoughts, and sensory/motor systems.
Language relies on a shared communicative structure, and uses communal mental representations. It is an intensely social mechanism, intimately linked to our environmental interactions. The environment plays a critical role in all cognitive processes and disorders.