Wernicke’s deaf people who use sign language

Wernicke’s area is an important part of the brain that is involved with helping us to understand spoken language. This lesson will cover where Wernicke’s area is located in the brain, how it works, and a little bit about how it was discovered.

Location

Wernicke’s area is a small part of the brain that helps us to understand language. It’s usually, though not always, found on the back portion of the left temporal lobe.

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It’s found on the left side of the temporal lobe in right-handed people about 90% of the time and in left-handed people about 70% of the time. This same area is found in the brain of deaf people who use sign language as well. This last finding hints that Wernicke’s area may not be used just for spoken language.Broca’s area is closely related to Wernicke’s area. It, too, works with spoken language and was actually discovered before Wernicke’s area. Both of these areas are found on the same side of the brain, usually the left. Broca’s area is found in the inferior or front of the temporal lobe.

It’s connected to Wernicke’s area by a bundle of nerve fibers called arcuate fasciculus. These two areas work together so we can understand and produce speech.

Wernickes Area and Brocas Area

Discovery of Wernicke’s Area

When scientists of all disciplines study the brain, they usually take a person with a disability and try to figure out which part of his or her brain is different from the brains of people without that disability. They then compare notes on the different cases. It seems simple, but it is truly fascinating to think about how the brain works.

In 1861, Paul Broca did just this. He was a neurosurgeon who studied a man named Tan. He was called Tan because that is the only word the man could say. Tan could understand spoken language, but he could only make a sound that sounded like ‘tan.’ Even though he could make this sound, it was not considered spoken language because no information was exchanged.

When Tan died, Broca studied his brain and found a lesion (a bruise or yucky spot) on the front of the temporal lobe. Broca then went and studied other brains of patients who were similar to Tan. This is how he discovered Broca’s area.

It’s the area of the brain that allows us to produce spoken language.

Carl Wernicke

Ten years after Broca’s discovery, Carl Wernicke, a neurologist, made a similar discovery; only this time his patients were able to speak.

Even though they were speaking, the speech was incoherent or just did not make any sense. He found lesions on the same side of the brain as Broca’s area, but in the back of the temporal lobe.

Function

As we stated earlier, both areas are on the same side of the brain and are connected by a bundle of nerve fibers called the arcuate fasciculus. These three things – Broca’s area, Wernicke’s area, and arcuate fasciculus – work together so we can understand and produce speech.They work like gears on a pedal bike.

Wernicke’s area is like one gear and is connected to Broca’s area (the other gear) by the arcuate fasciculus (which would be the bike chain). When one of these is not working right it will be hard to communicate via language.Damage to any part of your brain can be devastating. Patients who have damage to the Wernicke’s area can have Wernicke’s aphasia. They may be able to make sounds or even speak words and phrases. However, these sounds and phrases usually don’t make any sense.

Since it is just random sounds and no information is actually being exchanged, it’s not considered spoken language.

Lesson Summary

Wernicke’s area is generally found in the back of the left temporal lobe of the brain. It’s the part of the brain that allows us to understand spoken language.

If there’s damage to this part of the brain, the patient may be able to talk, but they aren’t really using spoken language because no information is being exchanged. Broca’s area is closely related and it’s the part of the brain that produces spoken language. The two go hand-in-hand in allowing us to both understand and produce spoken language.

Parts of the Brain to Know

Wernicke
  • Wernicke’s area: helps people to understand spoken language
  • Broca’s area: helps us produce spoken language
  • Arcuate fasciculus: nerve fibers that connect the two areas

Learning Outcomes

By the time you complete this lesson, you should be ready to:

  • Describe the functions of Wernicke’s area, Broca’s area, and arcuate fasciculus
  • Recall where these areas are typically found in the brain
  • Explain how Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area were discovered
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