Recognizing the basic structure of language is not unique to the human brain
…Scanning the brains of humans and macaque monkeys, the research team has identified the area at the front of the brain which in both humans and monkeys recognises when sequences of sounds occur in a legal order or in an unexpected, illegal order.
The team first had the humans and monkeys listen to example sequences from the made up language, allowing them to hear what were correct orderings in the sequence of sounds. They then scanned the brain activity of both species as they listened to new sequences that either had a correct order or could not have been generated by the made up language.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that in both groups a corresponding region of the brain — the ventral frontal and opercular cortex — responded to the order that both species had learned to expect.
These results suggest that the function of this frontal region, which is one of the areas involved in processing the order of words in a sentence in human language, is shared in both humans and primates, revealing its evolutionary origins. This brain region seems to monitor the orderliness, or organisation, of what is heard, which is an important cognitive function that provides a foundation for the more complex language abilities of humans.
These results provide first evidence that some of the functions of this brain area, which include understanding language in humans, are shared by other animals.