July 13, 2009

Second language in separate brain part

Israeli researchers say first and second languages are represented in different brain areas.

Dr. Raphiq Ibrahim of the University of Haifa described testing in an individual -- a 41-year-old bilingual patient whose mother tongue is Arabic but had fluent command of Hebrew as a second language.

The examination of such cases carries much significance, since it is rare that we can find people who fluently speak two languages and who have sustained brain damage that has selectively affected one of the languages, Ibrahim says in statement.

The patient had suffered damage to the brain that was expressed in an inability to use language -- aphasia -- that remained after completing a course of rehabilitation. Standardized test revealed that damage to the patient's Hebrew skills were significantly more severe than the damage to his Arabic skills.

Ibrahim says even if this selective impairment of the patient's linguistic capabilities does not constitute sufficient evidence to develop a structural model to represent languages in the brain, this case does constitute an important step in this direction, particularly considering that it deals with Arabic and Hebrew -- unique languages that have not yet been studied and which are phonetically, morphologically and syntactically similar.

The study is published in Behavioral and Brain Functions.