What We Write May Not Be What We Say…

Our ability to speak and write seem so interrelated that it is hard to imagine the areas of the brain governing speech and writing are different. But, guess what… they are. Someone who can’t write a grammatically correct sentence may be able to say it aloud flawlessly.

In a recent paper published in the journal Psychological Science, a cognitive science research team lead out of Johns Hopkins University suggests it’s possible to damage the speaking part of the brain but leave the writing part unaffected — and vice versa . This is even true when dealing with morphemes, the tiniest meaningful parts of language including suffixes like “er,” “ing” and “ed.”

The research team observed people saying one thing and –at the same time- writing another. It was as if there were two quasi independent language systems in the brain.

Study participants were shown pictures and asked them to describe what they saw. One participant would say, “Dave is eating an apple” and then write, “Dave is eats an apple.” While another would say, “the boy is walking,” but write, “the boy is walked.”

Where you may find yourself rendered speechless from time to time, this paper suggests that if speech is not working, expression via writing may be an independent alternative.

This was Article 17 from the Studio Quick Facts Series.


Works Cited
Chafe, W., & Tannen, D. (1987). The relation between written and spoken language. Annual Review of Anthropology, 383–407. Chicago

Rapp, B., Fischer-Baum, S., & Miozzo, M. (2015). Modality and Morphology What We Write May Not Be What We Say. Psychological sci- ence, 0956797615573520.

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