See Brain Region, See Other Brain Region Run

A novel study shows that when learning new words the part of the brain we use depends on whether the words are nouns or verbs.

“Learning nouns activates the left fusiform gyrus, while learning verbs switches on other regions (the left inferior frontal gyrus and part of the left posterior medial temporal gyrus)”, says Catalan researcher Antoni Rodríguez-Fornells, co-author of the study from the Cognition and Brain Plasticity Unit of the University of Barcelona.

He and neurologist Thomas F. Münte from the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg, in Germany, reported their findings of neural differences in acquiring new nouns and verbs in the journal Neuroimage.

By studying real time scans showing brain activation during a language learning exercise the researchers confirmed prior observations that our brains handle nouns and verbs in different ways.

The scientists inserted nonsense words into otherwise meaningful sentences, and then asked the study participants to derive the meaning of the inserted word – “Joe bought his mom a grimo of flowers for Mother’s day…” for instance, indicates that the word “grimo” means “bunch.”

“This task simulates, at an experimental level, how we acquire part of our vocabulary over the course of our lives, by discovering the meaning of new words in written contexts”, explains Rodríguez-Fornells. “This kind of vocabulary acquisition based on verbal contexts is one of the most important mechanisms for learning new words during childhood and later as adults, because we are constantly learning new terms”.

They measured responses to 80 new nouns and 80 new verbs.

“[The] results suggest that the same regions previously associated with the representation of the meaning of nouns and verbs are also associated with establishing correspondences between these meanings and new words, a process that is necessary for learning a second language”, says Rodríguez-Fornells.

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