New Brain and Language Laboratory Investigates Language Acquisition


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Gallaudet University opens new ‘Brain and Language Laboratory.’ Photo by Mr. T

Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., is one brain-study closer to answering the much researched question: How do we acquire language?

Gallaudet University has opened a new ‘Brain and Language Laboratory’ (BL2) designed to investigate how we acquire and convey language, through researching the biological and environmental factors involved in language development.

How Do We Learn Language?

Having language skills distinguishes human beings from other animals.  As humans:

  • We speak, and are understood, by others who share the same language.
  • We are able to produce meaningful language sounds.
  • We understand the language sounds others generate.
  • We create sentences never spoken before.
  • We understand sentences  never heard before.

Everybody with ‘normal’ brain functioning knows some language.  However, to hold an actual conversation requires a lot of subconscious knowledge. You need to know how to combine words to make phrases, and how to combine phrases to make sentences.  Knowing a language means you can perform these functions, but how do we store this knowledge and learn language?  What takes place in our brains?

How does the brain read language? image by Hank Grebe

Cognitive and Neuroscience Expert

World expert in cognitive and developmental neuroscience, BL2 director, Laura-Ann Petitto described the objective of the BL2: To perform research in the fields of cognitive neuroscience and children’s language development.

Petitto has used her expertise in neuroscience over the last 30 years to investigate language learning in the human brain. Besides ‘hearing’ languages, Petitto has studied language acquisition in deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, and is well-renowned for her research and findings  of the  acquisition and neural organization of American Sign Language (ASL).

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