The complex task of processing language is acquired and accomplished by young children within a short time including the establishment of a lexicon of names for objects and to learn combining these names into phrases. During further language development, more and more complex utterances are processed and understood. This advancement in language comprehension is supported by changes in underlying functional processes. In order to obtain a better understanding of the implementation of language processing in the developing brain, we studied language comprehension in preschool children and their understanding of phrases using functional and structural MRI. Although children at this age already make use of the classical network of language-relevant brain regions, these brain areas, particularly in the left inferior frontal gyrus, are recruited differently than in adults. Functional processes during language comprehension in children as compared to adults are connected to differences in brain structures. The dorsal connection between inferior frontal and temporal language-relevant brain areas develops late and is not yet fully mature in young school-age children. This structural maturation is reflected in children’s functional activation profiles of cortical areas. Taken together, this suggests that language development is fundamentally connected to the maturation of essential brain structures.
Dr Jens Brauer is from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.