Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Wernicke's Area

Named for Carl Wernicke who first described it in 1876, Werenicke's area appears to be crucial for language comprehension. People who suffer from neurophysiological damage to this area (called Wernicke's aphasia or fluent aphasia) are unable to understand the content words while listening, and unable to produce meaningful sentences; their speech has grammatical structure but no meaning (Akmajian, Demers & Harnish, 1984).

It was once believed that the role of Wernicke's area was to be the "seat of comprehension" of language -- that is, the locus of semantics. This view is inconsistent with Fodor's (1983) view that semantics could not be modular -- for Fodor, semantics must be the result of what he calls isotropic processing. However, more modern studies indicate that Wernicke's aphasia is not a problem with semantics, but is instead a problem with processing phonetic information (e.g. Damasio & Damasio, 1992). This makes anatomical sense, given that Wernicke's area is located near other cortical areas responsible for processing auditory information. This view of Wernicke's area is also more consistent with Fodor's notion of modularity. Phonetic processing is a good candidate for modularity, because it does not need to be rooted in more general isotropic processing.


  1. Akmajian, A., Demers, R. A., & Harnish, R. M. (1984). Linguistics: An introduction to language and communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Damasio, A. R., & Damasio, H. (1992). Brain and language. Scientific American, 267, 88-95.
  3. Fodor, J. A. (1983). The Modularity Of Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

(Revised February 2010)