Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Thinking of prepositions turns brain ’on’ in different ways

26.01.2005


Parts of the human brain think about the same word differently, at least when it comes to prepositions, according to new language research in stroke patients conducted by scientists at Purdue University and the University of Iowa.



People who speak English often use the same prepositions, words such as "on," "in," "around" and "through," to indicate time as well as location. For example, compare "I will meet you ’at’ the store," to "I will meet you ’at’ 3 p.m." These examples show how time may be thought of metaphorically in terms of space.

Just because it’s the same word, however, doesn’t mean the brain thinks about it the same way, said David Kemmerer, an assistant professor of psychological sciences and linguistics at Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts. "There has been a lot of cognitive neuroscience research about how the brain processes language pertaining to concrete things, such as animals or tools," said Kemmerer, who also is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Iowa’s Department of Neurology, where this research was conducted. "This is the first cognitive neuroscience study to investigate brain regions for spatial and temporal relations – those involving time – used in language.


"I was interested in whether these spatial or temporal prepositions can be dissociated in individuals with brain damage. One might think that if a person’s knowledge of the word ’at’ to describe location is impaired, then his or her ability to use that same preposition to describe time would be disrupted. But we found the words implying time are processed independently."

This research was conducted at the Benton Neuropsychology Laboratory in Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine and was funded by the Purdue Research Foundation and the National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke. Kemmerer’s paper is available online at Neuropsychologia. "This study has potential implications for neurology," Kemmerer said. "A clinician could use information about how brain injuries in stroke patients affect specific speech components to develop therapies to help their patients."

The four patients in Kemmerer’s study were used because of similar brain injuries, such as lesions from stroke, in the perisylvian region, which is responsible for language processing. Kemmerer found the stroke subjects who passed the language tests asking about prepositions relevant to time subsequently failed when these same words reflected spatial meanings. For example, the subjects were asked to choose the correct preposition for scenarios such as, "The baseball is ’on/in/against’ the glove." Two subjects did not select "in" as the correct answer. However, they did select "in" as the correct preposition for "It happened ’through/on/in’ 1859."

The other two subjects’ test performances were the opposite.

Kemmerer’s earlier research with Daniel Tranel, professor of neurology at Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine, had confirmed that the left inferior prefrontal and left inferior parietal regions of the brain play a crucial role in processing spatial prepositions. The previous research with Tranel was published in October’s Cognitive Neuropsychology.

This work, which has explored how different types of words are retrieved by different parts of the brain, is part of a larger-scale investigation being carried out by Tranel and his colleagues at the University of Iowa. "For example, we have identified the anterior left temporal lobe as being critical for proper nouns, whereas the left inferior prefrontal/premotor region is important for verbs," Tranel said. "The collaboration between myself, a neuropsychologist, and professor Kemmerer, a neurolinguist, has yielded important breakthroughs in understanding how the brain operates language, due to the unique perspectives that these researchers bring to a common research agenda."

Three of the patients in Kemmerer’s recent study also had damage to their brains’ left hemispheres, in an area known as the parietal lobe, which houses the supramarginal gyrus. This area is involved in spatial meaning, and it is the part of the brain that guides action. For example, the supramarginal gyrus coordinates how a person moves his or her hand toward a glass of water. Previous research with normal brains identifies this area as important also in the knowledge and meaning of prepositions.

The patients with damage to the supramarginal gyrus did not score high on the tasks that evaluated their knowledge of prepositions that dealt with space. In comparison, the fourth patient, who did not have similar damage to this region of the brain, was able to demonstrate complete knowledge of spatial prepositions.

Kemmerer’s next step will be looking at how the brain processes these prepositions in other languages. "If this is true in English, then what about the 6,000 other known languages in the world? This time-and-space metaphor is used from language to language, but how the metaphor is used does vary," he said.

In English, months of the year are treated as containers. People say "in January" or "in February." Other languages treat months as surfaces. For example, "on January" or "on February." Despite the difference, there is a metaphor at work, Kemmerer said.

"The cross-linguistic ubiquity of the metaphor suggests that people are naturally inclined to conceptualize time in terms of space," he said. "Nevertheless, the neuropsychological data suggest that people don’t need to invoke the metaphor every time they use prepositions to talk about time. Just as the word ’breakfast’ doesn’t require one to think of a morning meal in terms of breaking a fast, so the sentence ’She arrived at 1:30’ doesn’t require one to think of time as a series of points on a line."

Amy Patterson-Neubert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.purdue.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung

nachricht Scientists reveal source of human heartbeat in 3-D
07.08.2017 | University of Manchester

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>