A laser scanner produces a map of the brain for NYUAD research. Courtesy Jin S Lee
A laser scanner produces a map of the brain for NYUAD research. Courtesy Jin S Lee

NYUAD study into sign language and brain function 'shows how similar people are'



Go back 2,300 years and the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was arguing that the purpose of the brain was to help to cool the blood. He thought that consciousness was located in our hearts.

Although outlandish, it was perhaps not as ridiculous a suggestion as it appears, given how rich in blood vessels the brain is.

It has, of course, long since been established that our mental processes take place in the brain and not the heart, and even before Aristotle’s time many took this view.

While our knowledge of the structure of the brain and the way in which various functions are located within it has moved on immeasurably, our most complex organ has still not yielded all of its secrets to science. So researchers remain busy attempting to more precisely localise particular functions.

Studies involving New York University Abu Dhabi are helping to provide just such a detailed localisation for certain neural processes involved in language.

In a fascinating 2015 study published in Brain & Language, Professor Liina Pylkkanen, a professor of linguistics and psychology at NYU and an associate faculty member at NYU Abu Dhabi, led a team who found that, when a person composes basic phrases, a part of the brain called the left anterior temporal lobe (LATL) was activated in similar ways for many different types of phrases.

There are four main lobes in the brain’s cerebral cortex (the part of the brain where higher thought processes happen), of which the temporal lobe is one. As indicated by its name, the LATL is a frontal (anterior) section of the left temporal lobe.

In the study, co-authored by NYU researchers Dr Masha Westerlund (now director of data science at Investopedia in New York), Dr Itamar Kastner (now at Humboldt University in Berlin) and Dr Meera Al Kaabi (now an assistant professor at United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain), the same activation pattern – in terms of location and timing – was seen regardless of whether the person was reading English or Arabic.

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That the neural processes involved in reading phrases in Arabic and English are similar might not seem surprising. After all, in both cases people are understanding written words.

It perhaps seems harder to predict whether this similarity still holds true if, instead of reading, people are generating language and if instead of speaking, the produced language is a sign language. Are the processes in the brain used to generate phrases in a sign language the same as those used to produce spoken phrases?

A new paper looking at this has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. Much of the experimental work was carried out at NYU Abu Dhabi by the lead author, Esti Blanco-Elorrieta. The paper is co-written by Prof Pylkkanen, who is the senior author, along with Dr Kastner and a sign language specialist at San Diego State University, Professor Karen Emmorey.

The study compared results from 11 deaf sign language users in New York and 11 hearing English speakers living in Abu Dhabi. These were NYU Abu Dhabi students or faculty members who had recently moved to the Emirates. They were monolingual and spoke little or no Arabic.

As in the Arabic-English study, language processing in the brain was measured with magnetoencephalography (MEG), which detects the magnetic fields associated with neuronal currents. MEG allows a detailed measurement of both the timing and location of brain activity. All participants performed many trials to produce a stable pattern.

As when comparing Arabic speakers with English speakers, when comparing English speakers and American Sign Language (ASL) users, the researchers found that activity in the same regions of the brain, and at the same time, was triggered.

Finding no difference between ASL and English might not appear to be an exciting result, but Prof Pylkkanen said it was important.

“On the one hand, it’s a boring replication, but on the other hand, it’s amazing because we’re seeing similarity in the face of so much difference,” she said.

“We have to keep in mind the groups are different and we ran these studies in separate countries with different MEG machines.”

It demonstrates a deep-rooted similarity in the brain processes when people compose phrases like “blue cup”, whether these are in sign language or in spoken language.

The researchers had been uncertain, said Prof Emmorey, whether the differences in output (speaking vs signing) would affect the type of computation taking place in the brain, and the timing at which it happened after a stimulus.

“The hands are much slower, but this had no effect on the timing,” said Prof Emmorey.

“[The overall result is] a very good piece of evidence that we’re dealing with something very fundamental to language.”

Finding the same result for both spoken and sign language simplifies the interpretation of the results. Had differences been found, trying to understand the causes may not have been easy.

“If we had seen differences, there could have been many, many [reasons for] the differences. If we saw similarities, they are more likely to be caused by similar linguistic processes,” said Prof Pylkkanen.

Last year, The National reported on another study by Prof Pylkkanen and Blanco-Elorrieta in which they found that only artificial or forced language switching engaged the brain regions called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is important for inhibition and executive control, and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is involved in conflict resolution and error monitoring. When bilingual Arabic and English speakers were allowed to switch languages freely, there was no activation of such regions.

Blanco-Elorrieta is now looking again at neural processes associated with bilingualism (including ASL-English bilingualism), which is the main focus of her PhD.

Under Prof Pylkkanen’s supervision, she is trying to understand how concepts are represented in the bilingual brain. For example, is a particular concept in an English speaker’s mind represented in the same way in the brain as it is for an Arabic speaker? Although there are some cases in which the concepts may fully overlap across languages, there are others in which the translation of a word to the other language does not capture exactly the same meaning.

“We’re interested in looking at the underlying representations – how the different mappings between concepts and words co-exist and relate to each other in the bilingual brain,” said Blanco-Elorrieta.

A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

Challenge Cup result:

1. UAE 3 faults
2. Ireland 9 faults
3. Brazil 11 faults
4. Spain 15 faults
5. Great Britain 17 faults
6. New Zealand 20 faults
7. Italy 26 faults

Heather, the Totality
Matthew Weiner,
Canongate 

THE BIO

Occupation: Specialised chief medical laboratory technologist

Age: 78

Favourite destination: Always Al Ain “Dar Al Zain”

Hobbies: his work  - “ the thing which I am most passionate for and which occupied all my time in the morning and evening from 1963 to 2019”

Other hobbies: football

Favorite football club: Al Ain Sports Club

 

What is Folia?

Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal's new plant-based menu will launch at Four Seasons hotels in Dubai this November. A desire to cater to people looking for clean, healthy meals beyond green salad is what inspired Prince Khaled and American celebrity chef Matthew Kenney to create Folia. The word means "from the leaves" in Latin, and the exclusive menu offers fine plant-based cuisine across Four Seasons properties in Los Angeles, Bahrain and, soon, Dubai.

Kenney specialises in vegan cuisine and is the founder of Plant Food + Wine and 20 other restaurants worldwide. "I’ve always appreciated Matthew’s work," says the Saudi royal. "He has a singular culinary talent and his approach to plant-based dining is prescient and unrivalled. I was a fan of his long before we established our professional relationship."

Folia first launched at The Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills in July 2018. It is available at the poolside Cabana Restaurant and for in-room dining across the property, as well as in its private event space. The food is vibrant and colourful, full of fresh dishes such as the hearts of palm ceviche with California fruit, vegetables and edible flowers; green hearb tacos filled with roasted squash and king oyster barbacoa; and a savoury coconut cream pie with macadamia crust.

In March 2019, the Folia menu reached Gulf shores, as it was introduced at the Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay, where it is served at the Bay View Lounge. Next, on Tuesday, November 1 – also known as World Vegan Day – it will come to the UAE, to the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach and the Four Seasons DIFC, both properties Prince Khaled has spent "considerable time at and love". 

There are also plans to take Folia to several more locations throughout the Middle East and Europe.

While health-conscious diners will be attracted to the concept, Prince Khaled is careful to stress Folia is "not meant for a specific subset of customers. It is meant for everyone who wants a culinary experience without the negative impact that eating out so often comes with."

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

Five expert hiking tips
  • Always check the weather forecast before setting off
  • Make sure you have plenty of water
  • Set off early to avoid sudden weather changes in the afternoon
  • Wear appropriate clothing and footwear
  • Take your litter home with you
Meydan card

6.30pm: Al Maktoum Challenge Round-1 (PA) Group 1 US$65,000 (Dirt) 1,600m
7.05pm: Conditions (TB) $100,000 (Turf) 1,400m
7.40pm: UAE 2000 Guineas Trial (TB) $100,000 (D) 1,600m
8.15pm: Handicap (TB) $175,000 (T) 1,200m
8.50pm: Al Maktoum Challenge Round-1 (TB) Group 2 $350,000 (D) 1,600m
9.25pm: Handicap (TB) $175,000 (D) 1,900m
10pm: Handicap (TB) $135,000 (T) 1,600m

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

UAE v Gibraltar

What: International friendly

When: 7pm kick off

Where: Rugby Park, Dubai Sports City

Admission: Free

Online: The match will be broadcast live on Dubai Exiles’ Facebook page

UAE squad: Lucas Waddington (Dubai Exiles), Gio Fourie (Exiles), Craig Nutt (Abu Dhabi Harlequins), Phil Brady (Harlequins), Daniel Perry (Dubai Hurricanes), Esekaia Dranibota (Harlequins), Matt Mills (Exiles), Jaen Botes (Exiles), Kristian Stinson (Exiles), Murray Reason (Abu Dhabi Saracens), Dave Knight (Hurricanes), Ross Samson (Jebel Ali Dragons), DuRandt Gerber (Exiles), Saki Naisau (Dragons), Andrew Powell (Hurricanes), Emosi Vacanau (Harlequins), Niko Volavola (Dragons), Matt Richards (Dragons), Luke Stevenson (Harlequins), Josh Ives (Dubai Sports City Eagles), Sean Stevens (Saracens), Thinus Steyn (Exiles)

Our legal consultants

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

Traces of Enayat

Author: Iman Mersal
Publisher: And Other Stories
Pages: 240

Pox that threatens the Middle East's native species

Camelpox

Caused by a virus related to the one that causes human smallpox, camelpox typically causes fever, swelling of lymph nodes and skin lesions in camels aged over three, but the animal usually recovers after a month or so. Younger animals may develop a more acute form that causes internal lesions and diarrhoea, and is often fatal, especially when secondary infections result. It is found across the Middle East as well as in parts of Asia, Africa, Russia and India.

Falconpox

Falconpox can cause a variety of types of lesions, which can affect, for example, the eyelids, feet and the areas above and below the beak. It is a problem among captive falcons and is one of many types of avian pox or avipox diseases that together affect dozens of bird species across the world. Among the other forms are pigeonpox, turkeypox, starlingpox and canarypox. Avipox viruses are spread by mosquitoes and direct bird-to-bird contact.

Houbarapox

Houbarapox is, like falconpox, one of the many forms of avipox diseases. It exists in various forms, with a type that causes skin lesions being least likely to result in death. Other forms cause more severe lesions, including internal lesions, and are more likely to kill the bird, often because secondary infections develop. This summer the CVRL reported an outbreak of pox in houbaras after rains in spring led to an increase in mosquito numbers.

Law 41.9.4 of men’s T20I playing conditions

The fielding side shall be ready to start each over within 60 seconds of the previous over being completed.
An electronic clock will be displayed at the ground that counts down seconds from 60 to zero.
The clock is not required or, if already started, can be cancelled if:
• A new batter comes to the wicket between overs.
• An official drinks interval has been called.
• The umpires have approved the on field treatment of an injury to a batter or fielder.
• The time lost is for any circumstances beyond the control of the fielding side.
• The third umpire starts the clock either when the ball has become dead at the end of the previous over, or a review has been completed.
• The team gets two warnings if they are not ready to start overs after the clock reaches zero.
• On the third and any subsequent occasion in an innings, the bowler’s end umpire awards five runs.

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League final:

Who: Real Madrid v Liverpool
Where: NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kiev, Ukraine
When: Saturday, May 26, 10.45pm (UAE)
TV: Match on BeIN Sports


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