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Thinking of prepositions turns brain 'on' in different ways

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Parts of the human brain think about the same word differently, at least when it comes to prepositions, according to new language research in stroke patients conducted by scientists at Purdue University and the University of Iowa.

People who speak English often use the same prepositions, words such as "on," "in," "around" and "through," to indicate time as well as location. For example, compare "I will meet you 'at' the store," to "I will meet you 'at' 3 p.m." These examples show how time may be thought of metaphorically in terms of space.

Just because it's the same word, however, doesn't mean the brain thinks about it the same way, said David Kemmerer, an assistant professor of psychological sciences and linguistics at Purdue's College of Liberal Arts.

"There has been a lot of cognitive neuroscience research about how the brain processes language pertaining to concrete things, such as animals or tools," said Kemmerer, who also is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Iowa's Department of Neurology, where this research was conducted. "This is the first cognitive neuroscience study to investigate brain regions for spatial and temporal relations - those involving time - used in language.

"I was interested in whether these spatial or temporal prepositions can be dissociated in individuals with brain damage. One might think that if a person's knowledge of the word 'at' to describe location is impaired, then his or her ability to use that same preposition to describe time would be disrupted. But we found the words implying time are processed independently."

This research was conducted at the Benton Neuropsychology Laboratory in Iowa's Carver College of Medicine and was funded by the Purdue Research Foundation and the National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke. Kemmerer's paper is available online at Neuropsychologia.

"This study has potential implications for neu
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Contact: Amy Patterson-Neubert
apatterson@purdue.edu
765-494-9723
Purdue University
25-Jan-2005


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