Angela D. Friederici studied Linguistics and Psychology, PhD 1976 at the University of Bonn, Germany, Postdoc at MIT, Cambridge (MA) USA, 1980–1989 Research Associate at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands. 1989–1994 Professor of Cognitive Science at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. Since 1994 Founding Director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (formerly MPI of Cognitive Neuroscience) in Leipzig, Germany. Honorary professor at the Universities of Leipzig (Psychology), Potsdam (Linguistics) and Berlin (Medicine). 2014–2020 Vice-president of the Max Planck Society.
Language in our brain
Angela D. Friederici
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Germany
Language is a uniquely human trait. It has long been discussed how language evolved and to what extend the capacity to process linguistic structures is specific to humans. A more recent way to look at these questions is to focus on the brain basis of language by identifying the neural language network functionally and structurally in the human brain and by comparing the language-related brain structures to those of non-human primates.
We know that the crucial behavioral difference between humans and other animals is the ability to process natural language with its syntactic hierarchies. The available neuroscientific data allow us to define functional language network which involves Broca‘s area in the inferior frontal cortex and parts of the posterior superior temporal cortex. With this network the posterior part of Broca‘s area plays a special role in language as it supports the processing of hierarchical syntactic structures, in particular the linguistic computation Merge, which is at the root of every language. This part of Broca’s area is connected to the posterior temporal cortex via a dorsally located white matter fiber tract hereby providing to structural basis for the functional interplay of these regions.
It has been shown that the maturation of this white matter pathway is directly correlated with the development of the ability to process syntactically complex sentences. Moreover, this dorsal pathway appears to be weak in the prelinguistic infant and in the nonhuman primate. These findings suggest that the dorsal pathway plays a crucial role in the emergence of language.