Broca’s Area (part Of The Brain): Functions And Their Relationship With Language

This region of the left brain lobe is responsible for specific aspects of language use.

Broca’s area is one of the parts of the brain  that has received the most attention in the investigation of the neurobiological mechanisms that explain the use we make of language, whether spoken or written. The reason for this is that clinical studies related to this area of ​​the cerebral cortex show that there are different parts specialized in different aspects of language.

In this article we will see what Broca’s area is and how it is related to the use of language, through a summary of the characteristics of this part of the brain.

Broca’s area: what is it?

Throughout history, attempts to understand the functioning of the brain have led to trying to study the mental processes that carry out parts of it, as if they were systems relatively isolated from the rest. Broca’s area was one of the first regions of the central nervous system to be associated with a specific mental process that was different from the rest.

The concrete, Broca’s area is the part of the brain that is responsible for the articulation of language in any of its forms. Thus, both in writing and in speech, this portion of the central nervous system specializes in producing a message with internal coherence and articulated through the corresponding language fractions, whether letters or phonemes.

Location of this part of the cerebral cortex

Broca’s area located in the third frontal gyrus (in the frontal lobe) of the left cerebral hemisphere, although in some exceptional cases it is in the right hemisphere. Specifically, according to the Brodmann map, it occupies Brodmann’s areas 44 and 45, near the eye and attached to the front of the temporal lobe.

Of course, it must be borne in mind that the exact location of Broca’s area may vary slightly from one individual to another, and there are even cases in which it is visibly displaced compared to the average human brain. This is because no two brains are alike due to genetic differences and the effect of brain plasticity over time: descriptions of the cerebral cortex speak of general patterns, not exact rules.

Broca’s aphasia

The discovery of Broca’s area came from clinical cases in which patients with this damaged area were unable to write and pronounce well even though they could understand what was being said to them. This led to the establishment of a syndrome known as Broca’s aphasia, characterized by all the typical symptoms that appear when there is a lesion in Broca’s area and other parts of the brain have been relatively preserved.

Specifically, the main symptoms are the following:

  • Problems when repeating words.
  • Lack of fluency when trying to speak or write.
  • The ability to understand texts and spoken language is preserved.

This syndrome is especially distinguished from another type of aphasia related to a part of the brain called Wernicke’s area. It is Wernicke’s aphasia, in which, compared to Broca’s aphasia, language and writing are much more fluid, but the ability to give meaning to what is said or what is read or listen, so you do not understand what others say.

On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that when a part of the brain is injured, either Broca’s or Wernicke’s area, other parts of the brain are also indirectly affected, so the symptoms that appear are not an exact reflection of the tasks performed by these parties.

Functions of this brain region

Currently, Broca’s area is associated with these main mental functions and processes:

  • Language production.
  • It contributes to creating spoken or written language, establishing chains of words and letters or phonemes.
  • Regulation of  gestures related to speech.
  • When we speak, we usually move other parts of our body so that this information complements what we are saying aloud. All this also happens spontaneously, and it is thanks to the work of Broca’s area.
  • Recognition of grammatical structures.
  • Broca’s area reacts in a specific way c hen or listening misconstrued reads a sentence grammatically
  • Regulation of the pronunciation of phonemes.
  • This part of the left frontal lobe is also responsible for monitoring pronounced phonemes, so it recognizes when a section of the word does not sound as it should.
  • Regulation of the rate of speech.

In addition, Broca’s area is also in charge of working with another important element in the production of spoken language: the times. In this way it allows us to give our speech the right rhythm. On the other hand, in the phase immediately prior to pronunciation, it inhibits the appearance of phonemes other than the one that corresponds to each part of the word.

Keep in mind that neurosciences are constantly advancing, and that is why what is known today about what tasks Broca’s area performs is possibly just the tip of the iceberg.

On the other hand, one must avoid falling into the simplistic belief that Broca’s area “produces” language. Different parts of the brain can more or less specialize in different psychological functions, but they always work at the same time, in a coordinated way with each other. They need each other, and what happens in them is not isolated from the rest of the biopsychological phenomena that take place in thousands of other parts of the nervous system and the body in general.

Your relationship with the Wernicke area

As we have seen, Broca’s area is proof that not all parts of the brain are responsible for doing the same. Even language, which is apparently a single skill, is made up of many others that can be separated.

Wernicke’s area is the other major area of ​​language involved in the use of this mental faculty. That is why it communicates with Broca’s area through a set of neuronal axons directed towards the front. Lesions in one area or another, or in the set of axons that communicate both, produce different types of aphasias.

Bibliographic references:

  • Ardila, A .; Bernal, B .; Rosselli, M. (2016). «How Localized are Language Brain Areas? A Review of Brodmann Areas Involvement in Oral Language ». Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology 31 (1): pp. 112-122.
  • Binkofski, F., Amunts, K., Stephan, KM, Posse, S., Schormann, T., Freund, HJ, Zilles, K., Seitz, RJ (2000). “Broca’s region subserves imagery of motion: a combined cytoarchitectonic and fMRI study”. Human Brain Mapping. 11 (4): 273-285.
  • Caplan, D. (2006). “Why is Broca’s area involved in syntax?”. Cortex; A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior. 42 (4): 469–71.
  • Fadiga, L., Craighero, L. (2006). “Hand actions and speech representation in Broca’s area”. Cortex; A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior. 42 (4): 486–90.

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