Language and the Brain

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(420 words)

“What part of the brain controls language?” The answer is that we do not know how, let alone exactly where, we decide what mix of words to use in order to convey a message. The systems studied by linguists are theoretical, formed from our conscious understandings. Any study by a linguist regarding the functioning of the human brain is, therefore, theoretical.

Language is typically controlled on the left side of the brain. Thinking of the brain in terms of sides, it is known in the medical sciences that the right side of the brain controls functions of the left side of the body, and the left side of the brain controls the functioning of the right side of the body. As speech and language are concerned, most people are right-hand dominant, and the language “center” of these people is on the left. Brain tumors and head injuries are a common occurrence. A person’s speech is often impacted in such events, particularly when the damage is on the left side of the brain.

There is an interesting medical case that happened in Norway during the 1940s. A woman, Astrid L., was in an accident, as the result of an air raid, and she suffered a serious injury on the left side of her brain. In the hospital, she regained consciousness but was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. In time, she recovered to the extent that she could walk on her own and speak fluently; her speech, however, was marked by the absence of “the natural Norwegian accent”.

Most theories are contrived by studying patients like Astrid L. Many of these studies compare the human brain to the electrical system in a building. For example, if a fuse blows and a classroom full of students goes dark, the system can be re-wired to provide electricity to where it is needed. Another interesting observation is that people who are right-handed have been able to learn to write with their left hand. This involves not just the muscles but using your brain as well.

While it is known that speech is controlled on the left side of the brain (for the majority of people), it is not known specifically where on the left side. Indeed, we should be careful not to jump to conclusions about something we have not designed and do not understand. The truth is that we do not know what is physically happening in the brain when it comes to an experience such as understanding a language.

The Study of Language

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(416 words)

Linguistics is the study of languages and therefore should be studied objectively. A slight contradiction, however, is that as humans, we are studying an aspect of ourselves with no other way of talking about the language other than through the language itself and therefore may be prone to make subjective assumptions that an outsider may not.

Many species communicate through sound. Although there is no evidence with things such as animals, we can assume that pauses and tones in sounds lend themselves to forming complex phrases. This is also made easier by visual stimuli whereby we are able to correlate repeated signals in accordance with specific actions. For example, the scream of a child or a hiss of a snake is only heard in specific situations that can often be interpreted as dangerous or painful. Thus by observing certain sounds in different situations, we can gain clues as to their meaning.

Being humans we have an advantage in that we are able to distinguish between what a natural body function like sneezing is compared with spoken language. We know that language is made up of units of words. However, it is important to note that we cannot take a word in our own language and assume that it has exactly the same meaning in another. For instance,  the word ‘Shima’ taken from the Navajo language, while this word translates as ‘mother’, it has a far broader meaning that lends itself more towards ‘a giver of life’ and as such many things fall under the term ‘mother’ such as earth and trees.

Another important issue to bear in mind particularly within the English language is that of the written word contrasted with the spoken word.  Written words often do not correspond with their phonetic pronunciation. Therefore it became necessary to create a system to help overcome this. This system is now commonly used with many languages and is known as IPA or the International Phonetic Alphabet. This system allows us to know the phonetic spelling of a word. It is a rather scientific approach in trying to develop an insight into a language and almost ironic that we have to develop another language to try and understand or explain our own language.

Linguistics makes advances into many areas of study such as sociology, anthropology, and even philosophy. While many argue that it is a subject of the humanities, the approach needed to study it is systematic and scientific by nature and thus generally considered a scientific study.

Homo loquens

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(401 words)

Homo sapiens describes a species capable of thought, while homo loquens is used to describe a species capable of speech. Only humans are capable of communication through speech. Calls made by animals represent a very limited form of speech. Animals are also capable of making facial expressions, hand movements, and have a sense of touch, just as we humans do. However, we differ from other animals because of language. The basis of the chimpanzee society is grooming, cleaning each other. Human society is based in speech. The development of vocal communication in human beings has been very rapid, dating as far back as five to eight million years ago.

Language is primarily vocal, although it is also written. Even today, many people are illiterate. Speech is often closely related to other non-verbal behavior. While speaking, body language plays an important role as well. Non-verbal communications, gestures, have a language of their own. Gestures that may be acceptable in some cultures may be offensive in others. 

Tone of voice is also important. Most of us can relate to the anecdote of the mother calling her child. When the mother first calls for the child, her voice is normal. Yet as the child continues to play, the mother’s tone of voice will change, typically pronouncing every syllable of the child’s name.

Language has two different layers. Smaller units, letters, are themselves meaningless. Letters can be combined to form something meaningful, a word. For example, the letters s, t, o, and p form the word stop. This system is unique to human languages.

A feature of the English language is stress. By shifting stress, “wind” easily becomes “wind”.

Another feature is called redundancy, and an advantage of it is that speech is seldom misheard.

Language is not in our genes. A person who grows up speaking Spanish probably learned Spanish as a child. If a baby born in Peru were to be adopted and moved to Thailand, the baby would grow up speaking Thai. According to Noam Chomsky, the “God Father of Linguistics”, some of our language skills are genetically inherited.

Language first appeared in modern man 100,000 years ago and it is thought to have spread worldwide.

Linguists focus on the structure of current languages, and they focus less on how languages came into existence. However, linguistic evolution: “it is a good way to appreciate what has made our species so remarkable”.

Dealing with War – in the eyes of Speeches by Winston Churchill and Tony Blair

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War is dreadful at any time although predicaments conceive where only one option is controllably possible. Great Britain is one of those countries that over the centuries have had their fair share of conflicts. Through arrogance or valour, Great Britain has stood up when the enemy has shown its worst and fought for their right to bring a halt to what they were faced with. With regard to these conflicts, there has always been a prominent figure who leads the way, be it as King or Prime Minister. An integral part of these conflicts has been these leaders’ keynote speeches that not only endeavour to rouse the government and population but also justify their right for war.  For this essay, two of Britain’s 20th-century leaders’ emotive speeches will be discussed; those being Winston Churchill and Tony Blair. Their respective wars were Churchill and World War II (1939-1945) with Germany, and Tony Blair and his war with Saddam Husain’s regime (2003 – not completely finished).  The two prime ministerial speeches were made first by Churchill two days into his tenure on his first Commons speech and Tony Blair also in the Commons two days before the invasion of Iraq. The task here is to compare and contrast their respective war speeches while highlighting what makes them imperative.

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Guess the Audience using informative and persuasive speech

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I was asked to write 5 presentations for various audiences using informative and persuasive speech. Ultimately, these presentations would be delivered or read for everyone to guess what was the target audience, topic, and style of speech.

1 – Persuasive speech about preparing for retirement: 20 College Students in a traditional classroom setting.

2 – Persuasive speech about adopting a regular exercise routine: Audience 16 factory workers.

3 – Informative speech about what constitutes a healthy diet: Audience 50 Kindergarten kids.

4 – informative speech about the benefits of a regular exercise program: audience men and women in their 60s.

5 – informative speech about what constitutes a healthy diet: audience 30 economically stressed women.

Guess the Audience

1 – Persuasive speech about preparing for retirement: 20 College Students in a traditional classroom setting

Good morning everyone today, I must welcome you all to the discussion on retirement. Of course, for the people here this may seem a distant thought, but what I have got to say today may change your thinking and make you realise what your future has instore and how you can plan for a better retirement. As students studying here at university, you are already putting plans in for your career which is a great basis to start. Knowledge is power. I can not emphasize this enough as a solid career path will help you as the world revolves around economic ups and downs. Many companies these days are having layoffs which can not be helped because of the global turndown. It is your job to be one of the valuable members of the staff and safeguard your future. With a good career, you can start to invest money which will see a payback as the years go by. So, keep this in mind as you study each day here at university. It may be hard now but the work you put in now will have a payback as you forge a career. So, with a good career also comes the money, and with being so young you have got to start building a nest egg. This means being a first-time house buyer. Once you are on the property ladder you have made a significant start to build your investments. In this respect, as the years go by you can climb up that property ladder. I must emphasize here that the important piece of advice here is to not think too high. We all want large fancy houses and fast cars but as a first home, you have to be modest. The last thing you want is to be cut down by the huge costs of paying extraordinarily high mortgages and debt. This way of thinking goes along with spending. If you are investing in your future it is not wise to start spending habits that will stop you from climbing the ladder and investing in your future. I would say if you look at a figure of 10% – 20% of your salary should, in reality, be put into your retirement plan each year while also looking at the age of retirement between 50 and 60. It may seem a long way off but through life, situations arise be they marriage, kids, and houses that need a lot of thought and also expense while still contributing to your retirement plan. These situations may upset your plan for retirement but with a level head and forward planning they can be overcome and your retirement plan will stay on track and you are in the best position because you are young and about to start your careers.

2 – Persuasive speech about adopting a regular exercise routine: Audience 16 factory workers

Welcome everyone to our company-sponsored program for improving health and fitness for all our employees. I will try today to give an overview of what the program is about and also to initiate a healthy kind of lifestyle that will not only benefit you as people but also you as our employees here at the factory. Of course, you have each had a health check, you know and I have seen some of the final health reports of some of our employees. We feel it is the company’s obligation to help our employees to succeed in their work which will be helped by a healthy workplace program. We acknowledge that many of our workers are middle-aged and programs like these are not easily jumped into. We will certainly not be pushing people into aggressive workouts. We recognise that programs will be run to fit the needs of employees. We have seen that some employees will need advice on how to start a fitness program but we do not see this as a problem more as a challenge. Again, this does not mean strenuous workouts and targets will not be the order of the day. So, although some reports were not as favourable as an employer would like we see this as our challenge to our employees and with everyone’s help, we feel we could have lasting results. For this program, each employee will have to sign up for the program. We feel with a contract, you are obligating to succeed in your work and health. One of the reasons for the program is to highlight is the growing cost of health care. We not only feel it here in the company but I am sure you feel it too. We feel by implementing the program we can cut down costs across the spectrum. We would like to adopt a culture in the factory where our workers feel healthier. We will make exercise a work goal. The company will also offer £1000 bonus for workers who go on the program. We will offer nutritional advice which follows onto the canteen.

3 – Informative speech about what constitutes a healthy diet: Audience 50 Kindergarten kids.

Good morning everyone. How are you today? Who is feeling healthy? Today, we are going to talk about eating. Let’s start, I want to ask you some quick questions and I want to see hands. First question, who likes McDonald? Good. Who likes KFC? And drinks, who likes Pepsi? And who likes cola? Now I would like to know if you think this food is healthy. Good. If I was to give you lunch today with a salad and orange juice, and an apple to finish who would like it? Okay, now I don’t see many hands. Why do you there are not many hands? The reason I asked you is that today we are going to talk about nutrition. Who knows about nutrition or knows what the word means? Well, the word nutrition talks about eating and giving your body the right food so you are strong and healthy. It is also about the right choices for choosing food when you go into the canteen at school and what you eat outside of school. I know we all watch television these days and you all watch cartoons so we see lots of adverts on television. There are so many adverts telling what to do and what to eat. But do we see any adverts for vegetables or fruit?  That’s why I am here today to show that healthy eating is separate to what you see on the television. Let’s see I have two bottles here, one is water the other is Pepsi. Who wants Pepsi?  Wow, you all want Pepsi. I also have here a pizza and a salad. Who wants the pizza? Ok from all the hands I see here many of you would like the pizza and the Pepsi. Pizza is nice but it contains a lot of fat and grease. And what does fat do to our bodies? Yes, it makes us fat. And the Pepsi has a lot of sugar. This is not just bad for our teeth it is also bad for our bodies. So, kids with the help from your teachers, from next week I want you to start writing a health diary. I want you to ask your mum about healthy food and ask her if every meal is healthy. I want to see everyone eating a range of food because they all offer different nutritional benefits. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat while low-fat dairy products and lean meat helps. Again, ask your mother to check. This does not mean you have to give up your KFC or Pepsi as long as your diet is full of nutrients and fibre and above all exercise too.

4 -informative speech about the benefits of a regular exercise program: audience men and women in their 60s.

Welcome, today I am going to give a speech about the benefits of regular exercise. Some of you may think about exercise and get a little scared. I am not talking about going to the gym three nights a week or strenuous workouts. I think we are all a little old for this. I am talking about getting yourself mobile and not spending your days at home. Regular exercise has many benefits for every aspect of your life. Being unfit does not mean you can not get fit. The important factor here is there it may reduce the risk of some problems occurring. We want people to feel healthy and feel positive. We need to emphasize that it is a known fact that healthy exercise reduces the risk of heart disease. I would like you to keep that in mind. The first piece of advice with exercise would be to do 20 – 40 minutes of aerobic exercise 3- 5 days a week. This might sound extreme but again we do not mean excessive workouts. Locally, these kinds of workouts are held at the local sports centre and are expertly done to help older age retired persons here in the town. They are not only about exercise too. I went down there the other week and there were about 20 older people, male and female. After having a good time exercising they all went for lunch together. I joined them and it was very interesting and fun. By the way, they are also planning a coastal walk at the weekend. They plan to go to the beach and walk for 2 miles along the coast. I think this will be a great outing. There is also a guide to taking them so it will be informative as well. Of course, we are not just talking about your body this outing will see the benefits in your brain. This may seem a little strange talking about your brain but as you know as we get older our memory starts to fade a little so these little trips are ways to get around your local town and keep everyone active. So, you see I am here today not just to promote healthy living but a more enjoyable way of getting healthy where you can meet new friends and spend your time having a fun time. Another important aspect is your mood if we will feel healthy we feel good inside which shows when people see you happy. Moreover, with a little bit of exercise every day you can sleep better. Again, this is what we are here today to promote. I have all the phone numbers and websites for the sports centre, the coastal walk, and the senior citizens social club. Please see me after and I will let you have them.

5 – informative speech about what constitutes a healthy diet: audience 30 economically stressed women.

Today, we are going to talk about eating healthily on a budget. Yes, the global downturn has pushed the price of food up that even middle-class people are feeling the pinch but what we are here today to talk about is what constitutes a healthy diet for less well-off families. Firstly, you and your children, if you are looking for a cheaper option, then fruit and vegetables and other whole foods are the best way. This is healthy and can be cheap. A quick walk around your local market and your local supermarket will help you compare prices to see how you can budget your shopping costs. But you should be careful there is a lot of marketing and merchandising done to make you buy certain foods and brands. I am should you walk into a supermarket and all the packages and adverts look appealing but we are telling you to look past this. Also when you watch TV you see adverts for Fast Food, one example is junk food, McDonald’s looks good in the adverts but basically, it is junk food which is not healthy and expensive if you add up a monthly outing to this fast-food restaurant. This fast food and other convenience foods like this just increase your shopping bill. We are asking you to see past this and realise they just want you to buy their food. That’s why you never see the price in the advert. We need you to recognise that fruit and vegetables are the basic building blocks of healthy and nutritious eating and much cheaper than processed foods. I can not stress enough that poor diet leads to chronic diseases like cancer or heart disease. This is why today we have come here to highlight the problem and help economically challenged families think more about how they spend their money on food. Let me give you an example on how to cut down costs. Pre-packaged foods are usually more expensive and not good for you. For example, cheap oatmeal for breakfast can be purchased in large bags. For breakfast, you can add fruit to give flavour. All this gives you a cheap meal and does away with large packaging. Also when buying it is sometimes better to buy big boxes of whole wheat pasta and rice. This saves on trips to the supermarket and packaging. Another option is potatoes and eggs which can be used in many ways to create a lovely cheap meal. Eggs contain a lot of protein and vitamin C. Another important point to remember is that supermarkets have schemes to reduce prices. So, you should check with them how you can join this. Also, you should go down to the market or farmers’ markets this could be a valuable trip to check prices out.