How does language influence the human brain?
Wernicke’s aphasia represents a problem with speech processing. The spoken word is a sound stimulus which enters our ear and in transferred as an electrical signal through our nerves until it reaches the primary auditory cortex in the temporal lobe. This area is close to Wernicke’s area which contains the “word analyser”. The word analyser contains the sound patterns of words that is essential in converting speech into words. If Wernicke’s are is damaged the sounds cannot be identified as speech and comprehended.
Broca’s area is in the frontal lobe and contains the motor cortex. Speech is a motor process requiring sophisticated control over muscles of the throat, lips and mouth. Broca’s area contains the motor plans for words. When Broca’s is damaged the plans cannot be activated even though the motor cortex is intact.
Speech, reading and writing are also language functions that have a role in the human brain. Aphasia study showed that the condition was more common in left hemisphere damage than in right. In contrast to the symmetry of sensory and motor functions, language functions are asymmetrical, being more dominant in the left hemisphere. Global aphasia is when both Broca’s and wernicke’s areas are damaged and “shadowing” experiments in which words are spoken to a subject quickly and they must repeat them back quickly suggest that a global aphasic will be unable to “shadow”. The articulate fasiculus is the direct pathway from Wernicke’s to Broca’s area. If this is damaged then conduction aphasia results, which is severe impairment of repetition or “shadowing”. However, normal speech production and comprehension are less affected. This implies other less direct pathways exist apart from the direct pathway of arcuate fasciculus.
Writing, as a motor process is produced from the motor cortex under the control of the planning centre in Broca’s area. The input system, reading, involves the visual system and a region that contains the visual pattern of words and is capable of converting visual input into words. The key region for reading and writing is the angular gyrus, on the borders of the temporal and parietal lobes.
This region contains visual word patterns, the visual pattern is transmitted to wernicke’s area, where it arouses the auditory form of the word and comprehension occurs. Pure word blindness occurs when we have someone able to write a page of coherent and fluent prose, but who cannot read it back. This syndrome is known as alexia without agraphia.