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Welcome to 2 minute neuroscience, where I explain neuroscience topics in 2 minutes or
less.
In this installment I will discuss Wernicke’s area.
Although there is some debate over the exact location of Wernicke’s area, it is typically
considered to reside in the cortex of the left cerebral hemisphere near the junction
between the temporal and parietal lobes.
Wernicke’s area was named for the German physician Carl Wernicke, who reported that
damage to this region results in a deficit where patients are able to produce speech
that resembles fluent language but actually is meaningless.
The disorder came to be known as Wernicke’s aphasia, and patients who suffer from it do
things like use made-up words or similar-sounding words substituted for one another to produce
speech that makes little sense.
Patients with Wernicke’s aphasia also suffer from a deficiency in their ability to understand
language.
Wernicke proposed a model for language that involved both the region he discovered and
another language center: Broca’s area.
Broca’s area is thought to play a role in speech production, and Wernicke’s model,
which was later expanded on by neurologist Norman Geschwind and called the Wernicke-Geschwind
model, suggested that Wernicke’s area creates plans for meaningful speech while Broca’s
area is responsible for taking those plans and determining the movements (like of the
tongue and mouth) required to turn those plans into vocalizations.
It’s now thought, however, that this model is too simplistic.
Studies indicate that language likely involves widespread networks and cannot be boiled down
to a connection between two brain regions.
Additionally, evidence now suggests that Wernicke’s area may be involved in speech production
rather than just comprehension, and some have claimed it may not be as important to language
comprehension as once thought.
Thus, researchers are still trying to figure out the precise contribution of Wernicke’s
area to language.