Feeds

Linguists have more white matter: official

Brains asymmetrical, too

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Neuroscientists at University College London reckon they may have pinpointed the reason some people have an aptitude for languages, and apparently it's all about more "white brain matter" where it counts - packed into the area in which sound is processed.

The team took 59 French speakers and subjected them to two combinations of "d" plus "a" - one from their own lingo where the "d" is dental (tongue placed against top teeth) and a retroflex alternative from Hindi, where the tongue curls upwards towards the roof of the mouth.

The difference in the two "das" is, the BBC notes, in the first 40 milliseconds, so you have to be pretty quick off the mark (try* the "spot-the-difference" here, which has some mp3s of the two).

During the test, those who could quickly differentiate the two sounds were moved on "even more acoustically similar" challenges.

The fastest guns "were able to tell these apart within a few minutes, while the slowest learners were only able to make random guesses at the less difficult stage after 20 minutes of training".

This disparity is explained, says the team, by more white brain matter "in the left auditory region known as Heschl's gyrus, where sound is processed" - as brain scans of the linguistically-gifted showed.

White brain matter fibres play a role in connecting bits of your brain together, and more of it might indicate "more or perhaps thicker fibres" and an "increased ability to process sound", according to Dr Narly Golestani from UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Specifically, Golestani said white brain matter was involved in the "efficient processing of sound information into the lower levels of the brain - known as the primary cortex."

There's more: the researchers also found - among the fast learners - a "greater asymmetry in the volume of the parietal lobes, which are also involved in the processing of speech sound in the left hemisphere of the brain".

Those of you with loads of white matter and an asymmetrical brain will doubtless have taken all that in and it just remains for us to add a final bit from Golestani, who concluded: "The bigger picture is that we are starting to understand that brain shape and structure can be informative about people's abilities or pathologies - why people are good at some things and not others is evident from these scans.

"We can start to make predictions regarding whether people will be good at something or not based on their brain structure, or diagnose clinical problems."

The results of the study - entitled "Brain structure predicts the learning of foreign speech sounds" - can be found in the journal Cerebral Cortex

Bootnote

* We gave it a go and couldn't discern the slightest bloody difference between the two. We have therefore concluded that we have beautifully symmetrical brains - as God intended - packed with grey matter and without wasting space on white stuff which serves only to tell the difference between Hindi and French.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.