About this Research Topic
The capacity of the human brain to learn new language across the lifespan is the foundation of our incomparable ability to communicate. Thus, language is one of the most versatile domains of human learning, enabled by the brain's unsurpassed responsiveness to language experience. Research has shown that language learning already begins in the womb, amplifies in infancy and early childhood, and goes beyond the so-called “critical” or “sensitive” period. As the brain develops, it seems to retain its ability for language learning, yet it is shaped by maturation and environmental experiences that regulate the degree of learning. Given the wide scope of modalities (spoken, written, sign) and features (phonemic, segmental, lexical, semantic, syntactic, combinatorial) that language encompasses, the neurobehavioral manifestations of learning are likely just as intricate. Moreover, the complexity of relevant individual differences in various conditions and stages of life make research into the neurobiology of language learning difficult. To further our understanding of the specific neural changes that are stimulated by exposure to new language, more studies of learning-induced neurobehavioral changes are needed.
The field of the neurocognition of language learning has increasingly moved from studies of static processing of language in a given point in time to investigations of neural modulation during learning. Critically, the objective is to examine the state of the brain before or at the onset of learning, and to probe the learning-induced changes during and/or after the learning process. This is possible in various realms of neural changes, whether rapidly evolving functional modulation or slower structural grey and white matter reorganization.
At the same time, it is important to try to bridge the gap between earlier behavioral studies of language learning and novel neuroscientific evidence. The hypotheses of neuroimaging studies, for example, should integrate previous behavioral results on the effects of different learning regimes or comparisons of distinct natural language environments. This calls for well-defined experimental paradigms and control of the language backgrounds and other crucial factors characterizing the learner groups involved.
Furthermore, the study of brain activation in procedures that elicit learning in typical language development - but less so in developmental or acquired language disorders - may reveal crucial “bottlenecks“ in the neural mechanisms affecting language learning. The comprehensive study of specific changes in neural organization and function induced by the complexity of language learning is essential to disclose the neural mechanisms supporting language acquisition.
This Research Topic will bring together experts in neurolinguistics, neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, and psycholinguistics in order to advance knowledge on the neurobehavioral manifestations of language learning in different populations and situations. We welcome original research papers providing new findings but also critical reviews focusing on well-framed questions. The submissions should combine evidence from both neuroimaging and behavioral data. The methods may uncover functional neural dynamics with (but not limited to) EEG, MEG, fMRI, fNIRS, TMS and/or plastic changes in brain architecture with structural or diffusion MRI. The neuroscientific results should be complemented by relevant behavioral learning measures in order to elucidate brain-behavior connections.
Keywords: language learning, language acquisition, brain plasticity, neurolinguistics
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.