Brain processes play a very important role in regulating our daily activities. Specifically, there are several areas of the brain that are in charge of organizing linguistic abilities and activities that are necessary to communicate.

Three of the most studied areas in relation to language are the Broca Area, the Wernicke Area and the angular convolution. Below we explain what each one consists of and how the brain and language are related.

Brain and Language

One of the subjects that has most attracted specialists and non-specialists in the neurosciences and cognitive sciences has been how the human brain regulates linguistic and communicative activity .

Obviously, as with all activities we do, for language and communication to happen the involvement of the brain is necessary . But this participation does not happen without a specific order, it follows a series of patterns depending on the action.

This means that, at the brain level, language is a process that follows a series of patterns whose regulation has been located in different areas. Neurologist Antonio Damasio (cited by Castaño, 2003) tells us that there are three main systems in charge of this. One of the systems is instrumental (in charge of execution), another is semantic (in charge of codification) and the other is an intermediate system that serves to mediate the two previous ones.

Areas of the brain specializing in language

Each of the brain systems that are in charge of regulating language, act through the activity of different brain areas. Three of the most important areas are the Broca’s Area, the Wernicke’s Area and the Angular Circumvolution .

1. Drill area

Broca’s area is part of the instrumental system of language. Broca’s area is related to the ability to order phonemes to create words and then sentences . That is why it is also linked to the use of verbs and other words necessary to interact. When this area is damaged, there is also a syntactic difficulty (related to the order, combination and relationship between words).

It is called Broca’s area because of the person who started its study (Paul Broca) in 1861. What he did was to analyze the brain of a person who had had major difficulties in expressing himself verbally, while his understanding of language was apparently functional. He found a tumor in a part of the left brain hemisphere, and named the clinical picture “aphemia”. From then on, this area of the left brain hemisphere is known as Broca’s area and is related to disorders in the expressive faculty of verbal language , for example, “Broca’s aphasia”.

2. Wernicke area

Wernicke’s area is also part of the instrumental language system. It helps to evoke and vocalize concepts, and also processes the sounds to combine them into units capable of meaning .

It is not directly in charge of regulating the semantic activity (that of giving meaning to linguistic expressions), but of decoding the phonemes. However, when there is a damage in this brain area, by producing difficulties in the discrimination and processing of sounds, the semantic field is affected.

The regions that compose this area are related to two other brain areas, in charge of regulating motor and premotor activity. The Wernicke area and the motor activity zones are connected through a direct corticocortical pathway, and a corticosubcortical pathway. The first pathway regulates associative learning in a more conscious and voluntary dimension; and the second is linked to automatic behaviours such as habits.

This area is located in the left hemisphere of the brain, around Silvio’s fissure and next to the insula cortex. It has been studied since the middle of the 19th century (so there are several proposals about where it is located) and was named after neurologist Carl Wernicke.

3. Angular circumvolution

The brain is covered by numerous folds or reliefs that have very important and not yet fully known functions. These folds or reliefs are called convolutions .

One of the convolutions involved in language regulation is the angular convolution, also known as Broadmann’s angular gyration or area 39 (AB39). In addition to language, this area is involved in the activity of episodic and semantic memory, mathematical skills, literacy and spatial attention.

Lesions in this area have been linked to semantic aphasia. Because of its relationship to language and communication comprehension activity, many scientists consider this gyrus to be an extension or part of the Wernicke’s Area.

Bibliographic references:

  • Castaño, J. (2003). Neurobiological bases of language and its alterations. Journal of Neurology, 36(8): 781-785.
  • Rosselli, M., Ardila, A. & Bernal, B. (2015). Angular convolution connectivity model in language: meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging. Journal of Neurology, 60: 495-503.
  • Trejo-Martinez, D., Jimenez, F., Marcos-Ortega, J., et al. (2007). Anatomical and functional aspects of the Broca’s area in functional neurosurgery. Medical Journal of the General Hospital of Mexico, 70(3): 141-149.