Getting the Word Out
It's common knowledge that math and language abilities are based in different parts of the brain. Right? Maybe, says Yosef Grodzinsky. But maybe not.
Grodzinsky is a leading international psycholinguist-a biologist of language. His expertise spans the realms of theoretical linguistics, or how we create meaning in language, and the cellular wiring of our brains.
It's this combination of disciplines that Grodzinsky brings to his position as Canada Research Chair in Neurolinguistics. It's also a combination that has enabled him to begin to apply scientific methods to previously intractable questions of brain-language function.
Grodzinsky's groundbreaking research has been in systematically documenting specific aphasia-related language problems. Aphasia is the brain-damage-related inability to either express or understand parts of language. It's also a common impairment of stroke victims. The research has pushed the study of brain and language beyond assumptions of general impairment, to links between regions of the brain and specific language impairments.
Now Grodzinsky will extend this analysis to explore possible commonalties in how the brain handles the 3Rs-reading, writing, and arithmetic. He is exploring the hypothesis that human linguistic and mathematical capacities are not distinct and independent, but are special instances of a general combinatorial ability that humans, and perhaps other species, possess.
This research starts with the study of individuals with various types of aphasia. Next is to actually watch healthy brains in action using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The neurolinguist says that Montreal is an ideal venue for his research. Its multilingual environment readily allows for cross-linguistic aphasia studies.