A new episode of Lingthusiasm!
Click here to listen to ‘Language inside a brain - Interview with Ev Fedorenko’
Your brain is where language - and all of your other thinking - happens. In order to figure out how language fits in among all of the other things you do with your brain, we can put people in fancy brain scanning machines and then create very controlled setups where exactly one thing is different. For example, comparing looking at words versus nonwords (of the same length, on the same background) or listening to audio clips of a language you do speak vs a language you don’t speak.
In this episode, your host Gretchen McCulloch talks with Dr Evelina Fedorenko, an associate professor of neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, USA about figuring out which parts of the brain do language things! We talk about how we can use brain scans to compare language with other things your brain can do, such as solving visual puzzles, math problems, music, and inferring things about other people’s mental states, as well as comparing how the brains of multilingual people process their various languages. We also talk about the results of the fMRI language experiments that Gretchen got to be a participant in: which side is doing most of her language processing and how active her brain is for French compared to English.
In this month’s bonus episode we get enthusiastic about language inside an MRI machine! Gretchen talks with Saima Malik-Moraleda, a graduate student in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology at Harvard University in Boston, USA, about the details of what it was like inside the MRI machine doing the studies we reported on here - it’s a Lingthusiasm language-in-the-brain interview double feature!
Join us on Patreon to listen to this and 60+ other bonus episodes. You’ll also get access to the Lingthusiasm Discord server where you can chat with other language nerds!
Here are the links mentioned in this episode:
One of the papers Ev and Saima have been working on: An investigation across 45 languages and 12 language families reveals a universal language network
Alice in the Language Localizer Wonderland - for more information about the study and if you happen to be in the Boston area and want to participate! They’re currently especially looking for people who are multilingual or speak a conlang including Esperanto, Klingon, High Valyrian, or Dothraki (for which you can get travel funding…), but other studies will also come along if you’re reading this from the future.
If you wish you could see pictures of your brain and aren’t in the Boston area, keep an eye out for any other large research universities you might be near, as many are looking for participants! (Googling “research subject pool” + name of a local university may help find something.)
Here’s the image of Gretchen’s brain and a graph of her responses to listening to various languages:
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Email us at contact [at] lingthusiasm [dot] com
Lingthusiasm is created by Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. Our senior producer is Claire Gawne, our production editor is Sarah Dopierala, our production assistant is Martha Tsutsui Billins, and our production manager is Liz McCullough. Our music is ‘Ancient City’ by The Triangles.
Here’s the link again to ‘Language inside a brain - Interview with Ev Fedorenko’
Thanks for listening, and stay Lingthusiastic!
Lauren & Gretchen