Human Language

Vocal learning is the substrate for human language. It is a rare trait that humans share with only three groups of birds and two other groups of mammals. By studying the brain pathways for vocal learning in birds and humans we hope to discover the genetic constraints under which vocal learning evolved. Knowledge of vocal learning pathways may lead to improved treatments for human brain injuries and language difficulties.

Human brain areas where damage results i speaking and/or hearing deficits. (A) Surface view of the left side of a human brain. (B) Frontal section cut through the prefrontal areas that show verbal aphasias and brain activation when speaking. Also highlighted are the face motor cortex (FMC) and auditory areas. (C) Saggital section highlighting anterior, cortical, basal ganglia, and thalamic areas that when damaged appear to lead to aphasia deficits. The arrows indicate proposed connectivity based upon that found in non-human mammals.

See paper “Learned Birdsong and the Neurobiology of Human Language” which appeared in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 2004.