New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) today opened its Neuroscience of Language Laboratory, featuring a state–of–the–art Magneto–encephalography (MEG) machine that will enable researchers to better understand the type of brain activity associated with various cognitive processes. The laboratory aims to advance scientific knowledge on how humans neurologically process language — from the basic level of constructing words from their root forms, to the more complex task of composing sentences.
NYUAD’s MEG system is the first of its kind in the Gulf region, and is one of the few that has been produced in the world. The MEG machine is a sophisticated, non-invasive brain scanner that is able to detect minute magnetic fluctuations from neural reactions in the brain, with extreme sensitivity, at millisecond resolution. Sensors positioned at more than 200 points are housed in a thermally-insulated casing that covers the whole head, allowing the scanner not only to detect the level of activity, but the region of the brain active during different cognitive processes. The whole-head MEG system was custom–built for NYUAD by Kanazawa Institute of Technology, allowing the research team to make improvements to the design according to the specifications required for the lab's projects.
Research in this area can have valuable clinical applications, as it is critically important in supporting more effective and personalized speech and language therapy for those with linguistic challenges. For example, general insights on the way the brains of individuals with autism, or developmental or acquired language impairment, process language could potentially support more effective diagnosis and treatment of such cases
The lab has signed a partnership agreement with UAE University Linguistics’ Neuroscience of Language Laboratory, committing to share resources and technical expertise, and to collaborate on research projects. The Department of Linguistics at UAE University (UAEU) has an established team of researchers working on Arabic and other languages from formal, neuropsychological and developmental perspectives; the collaboration between the two labs aims to position the UAE as a leader in neurolinguistic research.
The lab will be directed by Dr. Alec Marantz, professor of Linguistics and Psychology at NYU, alongside a team of researchers from NYU, including Meera Al Kaabi, an Emirati PhD student at NYU. Dr. Sami Boudelaa, associate professor of Linguistics at UAEU, and Dr. Ali Idrissi, associate professor of Linguistics at UAEU, will also be a part of the research team.
“There was a strong motivation for us to house this project in Abu Dhabi, where there is a vast range of languages spoken, giving us a unique participant population to work with. This will give us the opportunity to study Arabic in particular, which has unique properties in its structure, and in its variations of written and spoken language,” Dr. Marantz said. “Previous neurolinguistic research has not significantly focused on this kind of linguistic structure, so we believe that our research here will provide some truly insightful results that will be valuable in furthering our scientific knowledge of languages in the region.”
“This partnership between the labs at UAEU and NYUAD will help us achieve our common goals of further developing scientific theory, and testing hypothesis in the field of linguistics. Beyond this focused language research, our combined efforts will help establish Abu Dhabi as a leading research center more broadly in cognitive neuroscience,” Dr. Boudelaa said. “The type of research we are doing also has the potential to yield valuable insights for other fields, such as computer science, robotics and didactic and therapeutic language development.”
Research investigators include: Dr. Alec Marantz, professor of Linguistics and Psychology at NYU; Dr. David Poeppel, professor of Psychology and Neural Science at NYU; Dr. Liina Pylkkänen, associate professor of Linguistics and Psychology at NYU; Dr. Diogo Almeida, assistant professor of Psychology and Biology at NYUAD; Dr. Sami Boudelaa, associate professor of Linguistics at UAEU; Dr. Ali Idrissi, associate professor of Linguistics at UAEU; and Meera Al Kaabi, PhD student at NYU. Students at both NYUAD and UAEU will be encouraged to participate in research initiatives in a range of capacities.