Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sign Language in the Brain

Hickok, G., Bellugi, U. & Klima, E.S. (June 2001). Sign Language in the Brain. Scientific American.

Because sign language relies heavily upon visual-spatial contrast, one might expect sign language to be supported by systems in the right hemisphere rather than the traditional left hemisphere language systems. However, this does not appear to be the case. A deaf signer with damage to Wernicke's area is likely to have comprehension difficulties and one with damage to Broca's area may have difficulty producing signs, just like normal speakers. And signers with right hemisphere damage continued to be fluent and accurate in their production of signs, used normal grammar, and comprehended signs with ease. One exception of the left hemisphere's monopoly on language production is creation of a coherent discourse, where right hemisphere damage may lead to rambling as it tends to be involved in more global-level processes. Generally speaking, sign language abilities of lifelong signers appear to be independent of their nonlinguistic spatial skills. Thus, it is likely that signers maintain unique early stages of processing compared to regular speakers, but thereafter neural organization is quite similar, being translated into a format optimized for linguistic processing and being routed to central linguistic systems.

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