1477 Music, Language, and Grammatical Processing

Saturday, February 20, 2010: 4:10 PM
Room 2 (San Diego Convention Center)
Aniruddh D. Patel , Neurosciences Institute, San Diego, CA
Linguistic grammar is a hallmark of human cognition, allowing us to communicate complex ideas in a way that far surpasses other species.   When grammatical abilities are impaired, either in development or as a consequence of brain damage, severe communication problems can result.  Hence understanding the brain basis of grammatical processing is important for both theoretical and practical reasons. A commonly heard claim is that grammatical processing in language relies on special-purpose cognitive “modules” not shared with any other type of cognition.  Recently however, there has been growing evidence for overlap between the grammatical processing of language and the processing of structural relations in music.  This is interesting because music, like language, uses discrete elements combined in principled ways to form sequences with rich hierarchical organization.  Thus comparisons of musical and linguistic processing provide a novel way to explore the brain bases of human grammatical abilities. In this talk I will discuss evidence spanning brain imaging, behavioral studies, and studies of Broca’s aphasia, which point to significant overlap in the grammatical processing of language and purely instrumental music.  These findings have implications for the understanding of brain mechanisms underlying language, and for the study and treatment of certain language disorders.
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