Monday, September 7, 2009

In both languages

I am as Gung Ho about my recovery as possible. Everyday I dutifully repeat my exercises, on top I do more; in English and in Turkish.
Most of the people I meet ask me whether my recovery is faster in English or my mother tongue. Interestingly enough both languages walk hand in hand. When I make improvement in English, it transfers to Turkish. When I can pronounce “sh” sound I can pronounce it in both languages. When my speed increases in one language, it increases in the other. Which is interesting because it makes me ask thousands of questions about the make-up of the brain:
- Is language knowledge (words, syntax, semantics etc) stored somewhere else in the brain? Other than the Broca’s center (My damaged area)?
- Is Broca’s center responsible from language retrieval only? Regardless of what language it is?
- What is the relationship between language knowledge, and language retrieval?
Broca’s center responsible from language retrieval, must be separate from language knowledge. They sure must be separate and stored in different areas of the brain. In my case at least.
- Do we need words to think?
Even when my aphasia was severe, I was perfectly capable of thinking and reasoning.
- How do we think if there are no words associated with our thinking?
- Do we use concepts to think?
We must use concepts for the thinking process.
- But how do we form concepts? Is a concept a concept if there are no words to name it?
George Orwell’s book “1984” comes to mind. There Orwell describes how by eliminating words one can also eliminate entire concept. Well, I am sorry but Orwell didn’t have to deal with aphasia then (thank goodness!). Because it seems to me that we think in concepts. Thought process and language can be decoupled. By concept I mean a bundle of memorized sensory input integrated together. For example: I think of an orange colored, sweet-sour fruit, with a thick and bumpy skin. Whether I can retrieve the name “orange” or not doesn’t matter. It exists somewhere else in my brain, that bundle of information.
This is my hypothesis because, once I establish a neural connection between a concept and its retrieval mechanism, wherever that resides now, I have equal access to it in both languages. Once I re-establish the retrieval mechanism between the concept of “orange colored, sweet-sour fruit, with a thick and bumpy skin.” and the memory of words, I get equal access to the word “orange” and “portakal” at the same time with the same ease.
If you think about how we learn language:
We hear the word “orange” with our ears.
We see the fruit in its form.
We feel the skin.
We taste the sweetness and sourness.
We smell the flavor.
It is all sensory data, stored in memory, bundled together in one concept. The language portion, the word “orange” is also stored somewhere in a separate memory department. In my case, my memory of the word “orange” is intact. The missing part is the retrieval function. Here is an example of how it feels:
There is a city far away from sea. People of that city try to reach the harbor of another city which is near the sea. But the every highway and street between those two cities and the harbor itself have been destroyed.
If and when you can build the connection between those two cities and build another harbor you can gain your speech back little by little. It is perfectly possible. But you have to work on building the highways and the byways, and a harbor. Depending on how young you are and how much destruction you have experienced you have your work cut out for you. The more you work, the more progress you will make. You may not re-built the super duper 10 lane highway, you had before but you will have access to sea.

1 comment:

Will said...

Great insight into your battles with Aphasia. Our company is building a web-platform that will connect Speech Language Pathologists with those in need of therapy. Please visit our website, we would love to hear your comments-