Cathleen O’Grady in Ars:
Whistled Turkish is a non-conformist. Most obviously, it bucks the normal language trend of using consonants and vowels, opting instead for a bird-like whistle. But more importantly, it departs from other language forms in a more fundamental respect: it’s processed differently by the brain.
Language is usually processed asymmetrically by the brain. The left hemisphere does the heavy lifting, regardless of whether the language in question is spoken, written, or signed. Whistled Turkish is the first exception to this rule, according to a paper in this week’s issue of Current Biology. There’s evidence that both hemispheres pitch in about the same amount of effort when processing the whistled words.
This evidence could contribute to our general understanding of how the brain works by answering some of the many mysteries about how and why we have asymmetrical processing. And perhaps very far down the road, this research could help stroke sufferers regain some of their lost communicative skills.