A team at the University of Rochester has found that the human brain makes much more extensive use of highly complex statistics when learning a language than scientists ever realized. The research, appearing in a recent issue of Cognitive Psychology, shows that the human brain is wired to quickly grasp certain relationships between spoken sounds even though those relationships may be so complicated theyre beyond our ability to consciously comprehend.
"Were starting to learn just how intuitively our minds are able to analyze amazingly complex information without our even being aware of it," says Elissa Newport, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University and lead author of the study. "There is a powerful correlation between what our brains are able to do and what language demands of us."
Newport and Richard Aslin, professor of brain and cognitive sciences, began by looking at how people are able to recognize the division between spoken words when spoken language is really a stream of unbroken syllables. They wanted to know how it is that we perceive breaks between spoken words, when in fact there are no pauses. This is why it often seems as if speakers of foreign languages are talking very quickly; we dont perceive pauses.
Jonathan Sherwood | EurekAlert!
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