Health And Medicine

Talking and Writing are Independent, See How Brain Separates Our Ability to Talk and Write

Writing is a system of human visual communication that represents language using signs and symbols. The human ability to write evolved from our ability to speak and since it is an evolutionary human invention, its underlying principle cannot be determined by the genetic code. A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University have found that writing and talking are two independent systems that someone who can't write a grammatically correct sentence may be able say it aloud flawlessly.

Writing is a system of human visual communication that represents language using signs and symbols. The human ability to write evolved from our ability to speak and since it is an evolutionary human invention, its underlying principle cannot be determined by the genetic code.

Talking and Writing are Independent, See How Brain Separates Our Ability to Talk and Write

Now, a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that writing and talking are two independent systems that someone who can’t write a grammatically correct sentence may be able say it aloud flawlessly. For example, when someone says, “The man is catching a fish.” The same person then takes pen to paper and writes, “The men is catches a fish.”

The team found the possibility of the part of the brain being damaged but leave the writing part unaffected and vice versa. This happens even when dealing with morphemes, a tiniest meaningful morphological unit of a language system including suffixes like “er,” “ing” and “ed.”

Their finding was published in the journal Psychological Science : Modality and Morphology – 
What We Write May Not Be What We Say 

Brenda Rapp, a professor in the Department of Cognitive Science in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement – “Actually seeing people say one thing and — at the same time — write another is startling and surprising. We don’t expect that we would produce different words in speech and writing.”

“It’s as though there were two quasi-independent language systems in the brain.” Rapp added.

The researchers wanted to study how the brain incorporate skills of this type and its ability to organize knowledge of written language, because for spoken language there is a genetic blueprint and for written, there is not.

The researchers also wanted to study if written language and spoken language were dependent in literate adults. If it was, the researchers would have concluded that one would expect to see similar errors in speech and writing and if not, one might see that people don’t necessarily write what they say. To study this, the team studied five aphasic stroke victims.

Of these five victims, four had difficulties in writing sentences with the proper suffixes, but had few problems speaking the same sentences and one had trouble with speaking but no difficulty in writing.

When the researches showed the individuals pictures and asked them to describe the action portrayed in the pictures, they found that one of the individuals said, “The boy is walking,” but wrote, “the boy is walked.” And another said, “Dave is eating an apple” and then wrote, “Dave is eats an apple.”

Thus, the researchers were able to conclude that writing and speaking are supported by different parts of the brain and what you write may not be what you say and vice versa.

“We found that the brain is not just a ‘dumb’ machine that knows about letters and their order, but that it is ‘smart’ and sophisticated and knows about word parts and how they fit together,” Rapp said.

“When you damage the brain, you might damage certain morphemes but not others in writing but not speaking, or vice versa.”

The researchers hope the study opens eyes to a better means of treatment for those suffering from aphasia and helps educators to teach children effectively to read and write.

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36 comments

  1. This post made me re-think about getting upset with people who use bad grammar in writing.I am a grammar nazi but I must reconsider and think about this functionality of brain that can impact the writing adversely.
    Thank you for liking my post.

  2. Of course, people who are writers, eg novelists, short story writers and so on, often write from a different mental plane and, therefore, it is not how they would speak.

  3. As a language teacher I see it it all the time. I have some boys that are very much oral learners. I teach a grammar point and they can give me great oral examples using the grammar correctly. Then they write them down and inevitably there are are mistakes. If I ask them to look at the sentence and correct it they struggle but if I get them to read what they have written out loud they spot the mistake quickly and can self correct. I am not sure it is anything to do with a part of the brain being damaged. This is why we encourage and tech students how to proof read and rewrite work. Different people learn and operate differently. I find it is helpful to try and get the students to identify how they learn best and try and offer lessons with a wide range of techniques to present the skills. I enjoyed your post thank you,

  4. Last summer I walked into a room where four teenage girls were sitting or standing at different areas of the room and looking at their cell phones. It was quiet and I asked them why no one was talking. They simply answered, “We are talking– and to each other.” My worry is that the future generations may forget how to speak with their real voices.

  5. Fascinating. Sometimes when contemplating my fictional characters I tend to think aloud. On occasion I find that when I go to translate the verbal musings to written language the words come out slightly different. As if a measure of control over my words was lost somewhere (am I making sense?)
    Anyway, great article!

  6. I wonder if there is a parallel study or association with non-verbal people on the autistic spectrum? If you know of one, I would appreciate a link to read. I have a non-verbal son and yet he is learning to spell sentences on an iPad to communicate. Full sentences are challenging and he can’t always type what he is trying to ‘say’, so I’d love to learn more about how to facilitate this type of communication and what researchers are saying about the neural divide in this population. Thank you.

      1. Thank you for the recommendations. I found the first article easier to read, but the second article was more on point to the issue of inquiry. I did have to cross-reference several Theory of Mind-specific terms and tests in order to comprehend it, but still, it was an interesting report.

  7. That makes me feel much better about the times I can’t get a sentence straight. Maybe I’ll start carrying around a little chalkboard for those times… Good post!

  8. I write a lot and have been told that I talk a lot also, especially if I have had one or two beers over a campfire. Whether or not I talk, in the latter example, the same as I write would probably require another in-depth study. But as another commenter wrote, I seem to think it, then write it in the same manner I think it up and then speak the words. Two exceptions however. One, I tend to think more about what I write then I do about what I speak, so my written word is probably more concise, or intentionally obtuse, depending on my whim. Two, I am 66 years old and I am losing words. I can, for example, see an actors face and remember where I have seen him or her before, even if it was 50 years ago. I cannot remember the name of the movie or tv program,and especially their names, I used to be able to. Once I hear a name I can immediately put a face to it, but not the other way around. My Doc says I do not have Alzheimer’s, I am just a normal old fart! I tend to speak more plainly, as a lot of the descriptive words I used in the past do not come easily to me now. The point being, when I write, if I don’t overthink it and am really into a story, a lot of words I have trouble remembering I find on the page as I reread a story. However if I overthink it, for example I am looking for words to more accurately describe my feelings or ideas, they tend to stay right on the edge of memory and the harder I try the more adept they become in staying in the shadows of my mind. I started and finished a novel, not for publication, just to exercise my mind, and it seemed to help. But words still come be me better if I do not concentrate on looking for them.

    1. Sir, I wouldn’t say what you wrote is concise – its ELABORATE and very interesting to read. Of course, you do not have Alzheimer’s and forgetting things is pretty common to anyone because people tend to forget things due to the formation of new neurons rapidly in the hippocampus to give new rooms for new memories. Formation of new neurons does slow down with age and now you are 66, you would remember things you did in your 50s or 60s. In rare cases, if your neuron formation is as rapid as in childhood, you may likely forget what was learned a day/week/month ago. This is why childhood memories are hard to remember. Also, certain action may trigger formation of new neurons and it could be different for anyone.

      Like always, thanks for the comment. I really love to see comments from my readers. 🙂

      1. Interesting…”…why childhood memories are hard to remember…” I have a very long memory and accuracy regarding certain events and even conversations. I call it a photographic memory, and I guess, as a photographer since the age of ten, I am continually feeding that ability. Does this mean I remember everything…well, No (my head would be the size of a hot air balloon if I did, and there wouldn’t be room for much else either!).

  9. Interesting and very thought-provoking indeed!

    While reading though, I was wondering to myself, because I speak and write and for the most part, what I write down always equates what I say. It’s like what I write is just the voice in my head, only in written form. Does that make sense?

    People who’ve read my blog and know me personally say they “hear” or identify me through my writing apparently!

    Is this making sense at all? hmm…

    1. I know exactly what you mean. Same is the case with me, what I write is actually my thoughts on paper. I don’t know how that would relate to this research but I guess that’s pretty normal. 🙂

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