The Brain and Language, Personal Memory, and Self-Awareness
Sahan Ratnayake Development of Language and its influence on self-awarness, personal memory, and higher emotion. Language is defined as the system of linguistic signs or symbols considered in the abstract. Language is purely a human concept.
Though it is used by many animals on the planet, no other animal uses language to the extent or complexity as humans do. This is in part to the larger brain size of humans as opposed to animals. Our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee, has a brain size of around 400cc, while humans have a brain that weighs around 1300cc.
This larger brain, as allowed humans to use language more efficiently to achieve its goals. With the development of language rose the characteristics that make us human: self-awareness, higher emotion, and personal memory. Though it is impossible to determine when language arose, it has been theorized that the growth of language coincided with the increase in brain volume. The brain is the control system of the body. All aspects of human behavior, language, reflexes, emotions, memory, are controlled by separate structure of the brain.
Within these structures are billions of neurons, specialized cells that transmit information throughout the brain in the form of electrical signals. The brain is split into two hemispheres, the left hemisphere controlling the activities of the right side, and the right hemisphere controlling the activities of the left side. Regarding language, it was discovered that the left hemisphere of the brain is largely responsible for controlling language. More specifically, the outer surface of the central hemisphere, the cortex, is regarded as the center of human speech and language processing.
Two structure of the cortex, Broca’s and Wernicke’s are responsible for speech production and understanding of written and spoken language, respectively. The development of language isn’t due solely to a larger brain, but also to genes and the physiological anatomy of humans. In the 1990s, geneticists discovered the FOXP2 gene. The FOXP2 gene is used for proper brain and lung development. Upon testing the gene, geneticists discovered that mutation to the FOXP2 gene caused severe speech and language disorder, leading scientists to conclude that the gene is essential in speech and language production.
The physical anatomy of humans is also a major component in producing speech and language. These speech organs are the lungs, the voice box, the throat, the mouth, and the nose. Speech is an air pressure that travels from the speaker to the listener. The lungs produce the air pressure for speech while the rest of the speech organs shape this air pressure to create the final sounds that reach the listener’s ears. For years, scientists have tried to explain the origin of language.
Though several theories have been put forth to explain the origin of language, there is no evidence to support any of them. Some scientists have theorized that language is so complex that it cannot exists in the form modern humans use today but must have evolved from our human ancestors. This theories are called continuity-based theories. There are other scientists that argue that human language is unique to humans, leading to the lack of evidence for its existence, and that it suddenly appeared in the evolution from early human ancestors to the humans that we are today.
Yet there are other scientist that argue that language is embedded in the human genetic code, and others who see language is cultural, learned through social interaction. Though no solid evidence for any of these theories can be found in the early human ancestors, it is fairly certain that the earliest human ancestors to use language were Homo heidelbergensis, thought to be the common ancestor between Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens. Recent archaeological finds have shown that H. heidelbergensis had an ear structure similar to that of H. apiens, which means that they could pick up the same sound frequencies modern humans could. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean they used language to communicate with one another, it is proof that H. heidelbergensis did have a system of communication. With the development of language came the ability of humans to become self-aware. Self-awareness is the ability to recognize oneself as an individual that is separate from its environment and other individuals. Self-awareness isn’t possible without inner speech. It is inner speech that llows individuals to question the past, present, and future. It allows them to think about themselves and to evaluate their actions. Several experiments have shown that, when individuals were asked to talk to themselves or to participate in self-relevant tasks. While doing so, it was discovered that in most people the Broca’s area in the left hemisphere of the brain, showed activity. The Broca’s area on the left hemisphere is used for inner speech. People whose Broca’s area was damaged showed that they couldn’t talk to themselves and lost the process of self-awareness.
Regarding the self-aware and self-relevant tasks, fMRI scans have shown that the Broca’s area lights up. This proves that language is essential for the task of self- evaluation. Literature has also given many example of self-awareness and the development of language. In the Greek work, Illiad, that lack of subjectivity by the characters and their insistence on divine intervention suggests that the language areas of the brain weren’t as developed as they are now, causing them to credit the “gods” for their actions, good and bad.
However, in the Odyssey, the use of the pronoun “I” and Odysseus’s rebellion against the gods suggests that the Broca’s area is much more developed, thus a more developed self-awareness. Language is also responsible for the human trait of memory. Memory is defined as memory from episodes in one’s life. Personal memory is also referred to as personal event memory. Neurologically, memory is stored in the hippocampus and the amygdala. Studies have shown that the hippocampus become active during recollection of memories. The amygdala is used in the recollection of emotional memories.
Language is an essential part of recalling a memory. Experiments by Tessler and Nelson in 1993, where a child was asked to talk about a visit to a museum. It was discovered that the child couldn’t recall anything that wasn’t told to him by his mother. This suggests that language is a key component in recalling a memory. Several other experiments with different age groups have shown that older kids remember more than the younger children, which means that since the older kids have a broader vocabulary than the younger kids, the older participants are able to remember and recall a more vivid memory of a past event.
Language is also an essential part of the human trait of higher emotion. Higher emotion differs from emotion. Emotion, also known as basic emotions, stem from the mammalian brain of humans and the amygdala. Such emotions, for example fear, are necessary for survival. Higher emotions arise in the pre-frontal cortex, a relatively new part of the brain. Higher emotions such as love, are abstract emotion; they cannot be expressed using physical movement whereas fear, a basic emotion can be expressed using facial expressions or simulation.
Language is extremely important for the expression of higher emotions. Language allows humans to explain, as well as understand, higher emotions. Language is necessary for all human advancements. Humans have used language to a greater extent than do apes. Though the origin of language is uncertain, it is undisputed that our earlier ancestors, H. hidelbergensis, were able to communicate and language passed down from them to H. sapiens. Language has also allowed humans to become aware of themselves, to develop memory, and to have higher emotions, characteristics that make H. apiens unique. Works Cited 1. Plontke, Ronny. Language and Brain. N. p. , 13 Mar. 2003. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. 2. Rumbaugh, Sue Savage. “Human Language-Human Consciousness. ” A« On the Human. N. p. , n. d. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. . 3. Morin, Alan. “Language and Self-awareness. ” Science & Consciousness Review. N. p. , 2 Aug. 2007. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. . 4. Morin, Alan. “Inner Speech and Conscious Experience. ” Science & Consciousness Review. N. p. , 20 Apr. 2003. Web. 28 Oct. 2012. . 5. “Speech Anatomy. ” Speech Anatomy. N. p. , n. d. Web. 28 Oct. 012. . 6. “Language. ” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n. d. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. . 7. “Rebecca’s Dystopia. ” : The Link Between Memory and Language. N. p. , n. d. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. . 8. “Neanderthal Behavior. ” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. . 9. “FOXP2. ” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n. d. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. . 10. “Language and Emotion. ” Language and Emotion. N. p. , n. d. Web. 27 Oct. 2012. . 11. “Personal Event Memory. ” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 27 Oct.