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Language and the Mind
I came to the Montreal Neurological Institute from South Africa in 1992 to work with the renowned neuropsychologist, Brenda Milner. My work with Dr. Milner, and subsequently in my own independent laboratory at the MNI, has focused on understanding how speech and language are represented and processed in the brain. My arrival at the MNI coincided with the emerging availability of brain imaging technologies, such as PET and functional MRI, which have enabled cognitive neuroscientists to view the brain in action. My research approach combines these powerful neuroimaging techniques with behavioural measures to investigate how the brain enables us to speak and to understand language.
Cognitive neuroscientists are just beginning to understand how experience with language may influence the organization of the brain. The field is increasingly moving away from a view of the brain as static and unchanging, toward the idea that the brain is adapting and reorganizing itself in response to specific cognitive demands, environmental influences or damage. My research program capitalizes on the widespread bilingualism in Quebec and the outstanding neuroimaging environment of the MNI to explore how brain organization in an individual's mother tongue and second language are influenced by such factors as the age at which the language is acquired, competence in the language and properties specific to different languages. We are particularly interested in how language functions are organized in the brains of adults with different language experiences. This work may shed light on the neural basis of one of the most amazing capacities of the human mind: its ability to naturally and almost effortlessly acquire language over the course of early childhood.
Language is perhaps the most remarkable and uniquely human cognitive property. It is inseparable from our thoughts, is the medium of our social lives, and is an essential ingredient of our culture and civilization. The main goal of my research program is to develop an understanding of this amazing human capacity that will extend from the theoretical related to language acquisition, theories of language structure, neural processing and language representation in the brain; to the clinical in cases that require presurgical investigation of language in neurosurgical patients; and the applied such as bilingual and second language teaching and learning and clinical intervention in cases of speech and language disorders.
Denise Klein runs the presurgical brain mapping program at the Neuro, integrating anatomical and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) to facilitate preoperative diagnostic procedures for patients with brain tumours, epilepsy, vascular malformations and other conditions. Her work is an essential part of presurgical planning that is highly valued by the neurosurgical team.