AU$89.00 / 16 month(s)
Subscribe Online NOW »
24 October 2012
Language is an amazing thing and it is the thing that distinguishes human beings from all other life forms. Whereas other species communicate through ritualised and repetitious songs, calls, or gestures, humans have developed linguistic systems that can express a literally infinite variety of separate and distinct thoughts. This incredible evolutionary leap is what distinguished humans from all other organisms on earth and new evidence suggests that language itself is a gift that keeps on giving because learning a language itself is enough to grow and protect parts of your brain.
Language first appeared somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago in humans. Some theorists believe that language was an adaptation of some sort and that those who could use language most effectively had an advantage over others and so evolution selected the development of language. Others disagree and see language as a spandrel. No, a spandrel is not the latest inner city fad pet resulting from cross breeding a spaniel with a mandrill. A spandrel is something that arises in evolution not because it is an adaptive success but because it is a byproduct. So language could be seen as a spandrel of developing a bigger brain. The enlarged brain had other advantages that made it an evolutionary success and it so happened that the enlarged brain was capable of language as well.
However human language came to exist it is clear that it is a very productive thing for the brain and this has been emphasised in a new study.
This new research was conducted on young adults who spent three months learning a language of which they had no prior knowledge. The individuals learnt at an extremely fast pace working morning to evening seven days a week. As a control group these people were compared to medicine and cognitive sciences students at Umea University who were also involved in an intense period of study but not in learning languages. The idea was to see whether language learning impacted the brain any differently to general learning.
The results showed that it did.
There was no difference in the brain structure of the control group but those who learned a language showed significant brain changes. Learning a language led to growth in the hippocampus and parts of the cerebral cortex including the superior temporal gyrus.
The hippocampus is involved in forming new memories and acts as a memory indexer by sending memories out to the appropriate part of the cerebral hemisphere for long-term storage and retrieving them when necessary. The superior temporal gyrus is involved in auditory processing but also plays a critical role in social thinking and understanding.
The moral of all this is clear, ve y aprende un idioma. Or to put it another way, fara og læra tungumálið áður en þú ert lengra alla hjálpina.
By the way, learning hip-hop slang does not qualify you for an enlarged cortex, the language learned needs to be a touch more complex. Are you down with that peeps?