Our ability to understand the syntax of complex sentences is one of the most difficult language skills to acquire. In 2019, research had revealed a correlation between being particularly proficient in tool use and having good syntactic ability. A new study, by researchers from Inserm, CNRS, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 and Université Lumière Lyon 2 in collaboration with Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, has now shown that both skills rely on the same neurological resources, which are located in the same brain region. Furthermore, motor training using a tool improves our ability to understand the syntax of complex sentences and – vice-versa – syntactic training improves our proficiency in using tools. These findings could be applied clinically to support the rehabilitation of patients having lost some of their language skills. This study is published in November 2021 in the journal Science.
Language has long been considered a very complex skill, mobilizing specific brain networks. However, in recent years, scientists have revisited this idea.
Research suggests that brain areas, which control certain linguistic functions, such as the processing of word meanings, are also involved in controlling fine motor skills. However, brain imaging had not provided evidence of such links between language and the use of tools. Paleo-neurobiology has also shown that the brain regions associated with language had increased in our ancestors during periods of technological boom, when the use of tools became more widespread.