Monday, January 16, 2006

Italian: The Language of Love Because It's Less Taxing on the Brain

English makes greater demands on the brain

The English language is a particularly difficult one, according to research undertaken in Italy and England. *

Students were measured in their ability to read real and made up words, while PET scans were used to plot the activity generated in the brain by these tasks.

The English students were much slower in these tasks, and their brain activity took place in many more areas.

The authors of the study believe that this is because English is 'complex and inconsistent'. There are 1120 different letters and letter combinations that can be used to represent 40 different sounds - with ambiguities such as pint/mint, cough/bough and clove/love.

Italian, on the other hand, has only 33 different letters and letter combinations to represent 25 sounds.

'Reading in Italian can proceed more efficiently because of the consistent mapping between individual letter sounds and whole word sounds', say the authors.

The work may lead to some interesting insights into dyslexia, which is not seen as a problem in Italy.

It may also have implications for the long term future of English as the principal language of scientific discovery.


This article appeared in the Spring 2000 edition of Short Words, the newsletter of Tim Albert Training. It was written by Tim Albert.

* Paulesu et al, A cultural effect on brain function, Nature Neurosciences, 3:1 pp 91-96


Anna Piutti said...

This is interesting.

The statement about dyslexia not being seen as a problem in Italy is not completely correct, though.

I'm glad I've found your blog. I'll come back to read more as soon as time allows.

Have a great day!

Nick said...

Thanks for dropping in!

Anna Piutti said...

You're welcome :)

Brian Campbell said...

Very interesting, Nick.

But as the joke goes -- dyslexics have more fnu.

Paula said...

As a teacher of English to Italians I could not agree more with the researcher.


Nick said...

Brian, very fnunny!

Paula, I found that in my experience as ESL teacher in Italy (1997-2000) that most of my students were surprised to find out that English was such a complex language.