Learning Hindi is good for your brain
Dinesh C. Sharma
New Delhi, November 4, 2009
Learning Hindi has an advantage over English-it exercises more areas of the brain compared to the Queen's language.
In a first-of-its-kind study in the country, scientists have discovered that reading Hindi involves more areas of human brain than English.
Scientists at the Manesar-based National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) have for the first time studied the processing of an Indian script-Devanagari-in the human brain using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).
In Devanagari, consonants are written in a linear left-to-right order and vowel signs are positioned above, below or on either side of the consonants.
As a result, the vowel precedes the consonant in writing certain words but follows it in speech making it a unique script.
"Our results suggest bilateral activation-participation from both left and right hemispheres of the brain-for reading phrases in Devanagari," said Nandini Chatterjee Singh, who led the multi-disciplinary team of researchers.
The human brain does not have dedicated neurological circuits specifically meant for reading.
Therefore, reading involves restructuring of the existing neural architecture or activation of certain areas of the brain depending on the script one is reading.
English, which uses the Roman script, is alphabetic. That is, it has vowels and consonants that are written linearly from left to right. Reading English-and other alphabetic languages-involves activation of areas in the left hemisphere of the brain.
In contrast, Devanagari has the properties of both alphabetic and syllabic scripts. Scientists have found reading the language involves activation of the left and right hemisphere.
The result of the study has recently appeared in journal Current Science. Researchers used the fMRI technique to record images of a working brain while reading Hindi. The study was conducted with individuals who primarily read Devanagari.
"While it is difficult to find in India a population that reads only Hindi and no English, we could manage to find individuals who primarily read Hindi and have been doing so for the last 20 years," Singh said.
In India, she said, children usually learn to read two scripts (often English and a regional language) almost simultaneously in school.
"If this is the best way to teach our children still remains to be determined. What the implications of this are for dyslexia is also something we are investigating. The practical implications of our studies will hopefully emerge in the next few years," Singh added.