Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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3-Nov-2005

Contact: Science Press Package
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Words versus sentences



It's pretty easy to tell the difference between a word and a sentence. But how your brain works when it reads a word versus how it works when it reads a sentence is still a mystery. To take this mystery for a "test drive," keep reading.

fell
the
the
from
apple
red
tree

The red apple fell from the tree.

Could you tell that something different happening in your brain when you read the list of words compared to when you read that very same list of words in a different order?

In the right order, the string of words forms a sentence. It forms a complete idea that means something more than each of the words strung together.

Now, imagine you have one of those fancy brain monitors that scientists use to try to understand how brains work.

If you put that brain monitor to work, would you see a difference in the parts of a person's brain that are active when they read the first list of words compared to when they read the sentence below the list?

The answer is yes, according to Kuniyoshi Sakai from the University of Tokyo in Tokyo, Japan. He wrote an article about language and the brain that appears in the 04 November, 2005 issue of the journal Science.

In the article, he describes research looking at how your brain treats words and sentences. It seems that there are parts of the brain that help you understand words, and that there are other parts of your brain that put those words together to help you understand sentences.

That's just the beginning. Scientists also think that the way your brain works when you learn a language as a kid is different from the way your brain works when you learn that very same language as an adult.