Skip to main content

Shapes of the Language Network: From Primates to Second Language Acquisition

As most cognitive brain networks, the language network was considered as a static and universal circuit resulting from the genetic endowment that enabled humans to speak. In an age where neuroscience is moving to combining phylogeny and ontogeny with environmental influences, we have to acknowledge the dynamic properties of this network over lifetime and evolutionary scales. Starting with a phylogenetic perspective, we will approach the perisylvian network of non-human primates and its involvement in auditory processing. Not only do our closest relatives possess precursors of meaning retrieval from auditory input, but also of auditory sequence processing. The commonalities and evolutionary differences will help to trace the anatomical path to human language. Also in humans, the language network dynamically adapts to the tasks it has to perform. Its shape is differentially determined by linguistic properties of the mother tongue of each individual and also by its modality in the case of sign language. This puts into question the universality in brain wiring for language. Acquiring a second language is an ideal way to show these plastic changes at different time points from early bilingual children to adult language learners. The extent to which different circuits are recruited also provide insights on how the brain networks adapt to bilingual experience and in general to novel cognitive tasks. However, these studies investigating anatomical connectivity only infer the functions of these brain structures indirectly. That is why the in vivo intraoperative assessment of the brain connectivity can provide us crucial insights. It can also help us refine our knowledge about the detailed structure of these white matter structures. This symposium brings together basic neuroscience with clinical application, giving new insights in the brain circuitry that can be translated into improvements for the neurosurgical patients.