Language News: Plasticity, Modularity, and Language in the Brain

When we teach about language in the brain, most of us teach about the modularity of the brain–the (sometimes contested) fact that different regions of the brain seem to specialize in certain activities.  However, the brain is very plastic, and we know that traumatic brain injuries can result in radical remappings of the expected ordering in the brian.

Here’s a lay-person’s write-up to research comparing the brain activities of blind people to those of sighted people.

Brains of blind people reading in Braille show activity in same area that lights up when sighted readers read.

The intro reads “the portion of the brain responsible for visual reading doesn’t require vision at all.”  It’s exciting, but it’s probably not entirely surprising to those who study the brain.  Cause and correlation are not the same thing.  What we once thought of as a visual area, may in fact have multiple specializations.  We won’t know until we do more research.

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About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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