Written by Shailvee Sharda
LUCKNOW: Reading an Urdu couplet is not only a delight for your soul but also an elixir for your brain. A recent study by the Center for Bio-Medical Researches (CBMR), Lucknow, suggests that reading Urdu passages helps in brain development.
The work, which has made it to the recent edition of international journal 'Neuroscience Letters', has shown that reading the language involves predominant involvement of the frontal brain which controls a number of cognitive functions like decision making, the ability to determine good from bad, emotional control, coping with stress, processing information and analysing. Learning Urdu also has a role in delaying the onset of dementia, besides helping children with learning disabilities.
Uttam Kumar, a faculty member in the department of neuroimaging at CBMR, who conducted the research on subjects from the city, said the conclusion was drawn on the basis of mapping the brain of subjects when they read Urdu text for a stipulated time. The mapping was done using functional magnetic resonance imaging technique, a world-class technology used to study structural and functional aspects of the brain.
Learning of a language creates a certain pattern in the brain which can be identified by linking different neurons involved. Joining all dots refers to mapping. Though the basic contour of this pattern for all languages is the same, the structure tends to differ at a micro level because of scripts and subsequent speech sounds (phonetics). Languages are also differentiated on the basis of orthography or difference between grapheme (seeing written letters) and phoneme (encoding and translating the written into spoken letters) mapping.
"We used grapheme-phoneme mapping which divides languages into 'transparent' (easy to learn) or 'deep' (difficult to learn). For example: Hindi and German are transparent while English and French are deep. Urdu is the deepest language and therefore reading it involves more areas of the brain, which is good for mental health," said Kumar adding, "Urdu has two more advantages over others — visual complexity of letters and direction of writing."
The study found that reading Urdu involved dominant participation of the middle and superior regions of the frontal part of the brain. "Both these areas control majority of cognitive functions of the brain such as decision making, emotional control, coping with stress, analying things and processing information," he said adding that its role in decision making was most important. "It governs the ability to determine the good from the bad along with consequences of action," he stated, citing the Journal of Cognitive Neurosciences.
The work examined effects of graphene-phoneme mapping over neural regions in bilingual people and suggested that Hindi and Urdu made a good combination. "This works very well because they are mutually comprehensible languages and have a shared vocabulary," Kumar said. Researchers at Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences, Hyderabad, have already shown that bilingualism delays the age of onset of Alzheimers and other dementia. It also found that the Urdu-Hindi combo was beneficial for children with learning disabilities, particularly dyslexia, as it improves functioning of the visual cortex.