ASL and the Brain
As someone who is hard-of-hearing, I’ve been fascinated for a long time by sign languages and have been learning American Sign Language (ASL) for awhile now. I find myself constantly trying to dispel misconceptions and increase awareness about the third most spoken language in the United States. For example, many think that you must spell every word out, that it is just English on the hands and not an independent language, or that there is a universal sign language that deaf people everywhere use–but these are all false. One aspect I find particularly interesting about sign languages is that even though they are visual and not auditory-based, there are studies that suggest signing uses the same parts of the brain as spoken language.
This article explains that the regions of the brain, Broca’s and Wernike’s areas, are respectively vital to language production an comprehension. Despite using completely different senses and muscles, stroke damage to these areas in hearing and deaf people had similar negative effects on their ability to communicate. One possible difference between the brain usage of talkers and signers might exist in the right hemisphere, according to the article. ASL may use the right hemisphere more due to the spatial processing and facial expression interpreting required.
This and other studies are not conclusive, but it’s fascinating to think how the same areas of the brain may be responsible for such different means of communication!