These two areas of the brain are well-known to be used to understand and produce language.
Broca’s area is the part of the brain most commonly linked to language production.
One way that people can learn about the function of Broca’s area is by studying people who have damage to this brain region. In fact, it is named after a prominent scientist who did just that.
People with damage in or near Broca’s area usually have little-to-no difficulty understanding language, but find producing language—spoken or signed—very difficult.
Another way to study Broca’s area is to record brain activity during some sort of language-relevant vs. language-irrelevant task and then to check whether that area of the brain is ‘activated’ i.e. has increased blood-flow.
Wernicke’s area is the part of the brain most commonly linked to language comprehension.
People with damage in or near Wernicke’s area usually have little-to-no difficulty producing language. The language they produce usually has good grammar, but often lacks meaning. Just like for Broca’s area, Wernicke’s area can also be studied by recording brain activity from individuals during different language tasks.
Of course, these areas are not the only brain regions associated with speech production, nor is that their only function.
Broca’s area is, as described above, known mostly for its role in speech production. However, like everything else in the brain, its role is a little more complicated than that. In fact, Broca’s area has also been associated with comprehending relatively complex grammar (Fedorenko et al.).
Furthermore, an fMRI study by Ferdinand Binkofski et al. in Düsseldorf found Broca’s area was also used when participants performed or imagined performing a simple physical task.
By learning about how people use areas of the brain like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, people can begin to help those who have damage there.
Aahnix is a Project Coordinator in the Bergelson lab at Duke University