Free thoughts on language learning

Discussions on learning Spanish, English and other language issues. Occasionally, we may stray from language learning topics if there is something that catches my interest.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Speaking in Tongues - What's Being Said




Last week word came out that researchers at the University of Pennsyvania have completed a study on people who have claimed to "speak in tongues". For those of you not familiar with this term, it refers to the event when people speak unintelligable "patter" or language and partially lose body control, all while in a self described state of being possessed. They claim to have no control of the sounds coming out of their mouths and claim that God is speaking through them.

The research measured blood flow in various parts of the brain associated with volition or freely chosen acts as well those parts of the brain associated with language. They compared data collected while the subjects were "speaking in tongues" and compared it to data collected when the subjects were singing gospel songs. (Why not just ordinary speech?) What the researchers found confirmed the subjective claims of participants in the study who were "speaking in tongues". There was reduced activity in both the part of the brain associated with free choice (the pre-frontal lobes) and the part of the brain associated with language. So just who is at the wheel?

Here's an article from the NY Times on this. Also a link to Penn Medicine's Press release

All of this makes me want to know more about how the brain processes and produces language. This study was not trying to answer any of these questions but would suggest that since both the subject and spectators describe what's coming out of their mouths "language" there must be some characteristics or set of rules that give the appearance of language. Is this revealing something about the way our brains are "wired" for language? It's a fascinating path for this kind of research to explore. I can't wait for more of this kind of research to be done.

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